Photo essay: Emirati folk house doors preserve history in Al Ain

A glimpse at the preserved history and tradition in Emirati folk houses doors

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In a world that rapidly changes, doors of Emirati folk houses in Al Ain are a reminder of a time when cultural values and privacy were not only appreciated, but also embraced in architecture.

Unlike many other cities in the UAE, Al Ain is relatively untouched, allowing its landscape and housing styles to retain a deep-rooted connection to the region's cultural heritage.

In Emirati culture, the concept of privacy holds great importance, and it is beautifully reflected in the design of traditional folk houses and doors. The legacy of folk houses lives on as a means to provide lower rents while a few have been renovated into more luxurious residences.

However, with the inflow of oil revenues and the subsequent rise in prosperity, many Emirati families have gradually moved to larger, more modern homes.

A distinctive feature of these homes is the private entrance exclusively for family, setting them apart from the outside world.

“The doors used to be built according to where it was placed in the house. For example, if it was a big door, a room’s door, front yard door or a seating-area door," Mouza AlKaabi, an Al Ain resident, told The National.

“The UAE preserved the historic houses as prominent landmarks, like in Al Jahili Fort. You will see a lot of old houses, old rooms, and old doors in Al Jahili Fort. You can also find it in Mohammed bin Khalifa’s house in Al Ain."

First built in the 1970s, these houses were designed primarily for the Bedouin and, to enhance privacy and security, the height of the external walls and position of the door were elevated.

Modifications included the replacement of the traditional wooden exterior gate with ornate steel or metal doors, the addition of extra bedrooms and reception rooms, the construction of garages and the installation of wells. These adjustments were often driven by the growing number of family members.

Doorways then became another focal point for change. As a result, each door now has unique patterns and colour schemes.

Hedaya Alkaabi, a lifelong Al Ain resident who is now in her sixties, shares the process of how old doors were built from wood.

"They used to make old doors from palm tree leaves for the arish houses. They used to build houses for sheikhs and people with high power without cement, only using mud and stone. They would heat up the mud by fire for it to stick on the stone.

"The most common colour for the doors was brown because dye wasn’t profound then like now. They used to heat pieces of metal and draw on the sidr tree wood."

These designs were influenced by various symbols and themes that hold cultural and historical significance for Emiratis.

Images of falcons, which symbolise courage and nobility, are frequently found on these doors. The UAE flag, a representation of national pride, is another common choice.

The star and crescent, a symbol deeply associated with Islam, features prominently on the flags of many Islamic countries. Each of these patterns and colours includes a piece of Emirati culture and history, underlining the nation's heritage.

The colours black, white, red and green – found in the UAE flag – are common and display different aspects of Emirati identity. These colours dominate the flags of many Arab states, highlighting their importance in the wider Arab and Islamic world.

Folk houses in the UAE typically have two entrances: one leading to the men's reception area, or majlis, where visitors are greeted and entertained, and the other leading to the private family area.

These folk house doors have not only stood the test of time but have also come to symbolise the essence of Emirati culture. They serve as a reminder of the region's rich heritage, recalling a simpler, more traditional way of life.

Updated: November 21, 2023, 2:59 PM