The Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) and the Department of Culture and Information in Sharjah have announced that the Heart of Sharjah has been registered in the tentative list of World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The new achievement reflects the significance of archaeological and historical heritage in the UAE and comes in line with Sharjah Islamic Cultural Capital 2014 celebrations.
Under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), has formed a task force to nominate the Heart of Sharjah to be included on the List of World Heritage Sites. The file will be evaluated by the UNESCO’s bodies, which will conduct a number of visits and assessments over a period of 2 years before recommending whether to inscribe the Heart of Sharjah on the World Heritage List.
According to the selection criteria, the nominated site must be a place of outstanding natural importance such as a forest, mountain, island or manmade structures of cultural significance such as buildings or a city. Once listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the international organisation will protect the site and help with maintenance when needed.
Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi was thrilled with the achievement, which occurred prior to the launch of the official celebrations of Sharjah Islamic Cultural Capital 2014. She extended thanks and gratitude to His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, for his continuous support to the Heart of Sharjah’s bid for a place on the list and for His Highness’ directives aimed at highlighting the human and cultural heritage in Sharjah and the UAE.
Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi added, “The Heart of Sharjah has a multitude of historical and heritage sites which have outstanding historical value, as Sharjah served as a point of convergence of civilizations, a transit road for trade caravans on sea and land, and a meeting point between people and tribes. We will work to add this area of rich heritage to the list of World Heritage Sites to introduce the significant value of the UAE’s history to the world.
HE Abdullah Mohammed Al Owais, Board Member of the National Council of Tourism and Antiquities, said that listing the Heart of Sharjah’s as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a success that demonstrates the historical value of the UAE and will help boost tourism in the country, particularly cultural and heritage tourism. It will also show that the UAE’s glorious present is based on a deep-rooted history.
Al Owais praised the role played by all government corporations as well as cultural and heritage stakeholders. He extended thanks to the National Council of Tourism and Antiquities for their outstanding efforts and caring for the nomination file which served as a moral support, as well as for their support of the heritage conservation, restoration and exploration practices across the country. He affirmed their intention to continue collaboration with the UNESCO to register more sites on the list.
Al Owais praised the role played by all government corporations as well as cultural and heritage stakeholders. He extended thanks to the National Council of Tourism and Antiquities for their outstanding efforts and the care they took with the nomination file which provided invaluable moral support, as well as for their support of heritage conservation, restoration and exploration practices across the country. He affirmed their intention to continue collaboration with UNESCO to register more sites on the list.
The Heart of Sharjah is located in the old part of the Emirate of Sharjah in the northern United Arab Emirates. According to historical sources, this location contributed to the development of trade. Al Edrissy – an 11th century geographer – stated that there was a port in the existing location of Sharjah.
Sharjah contains two components that have often characterised the existence of settlements in the Arabian Gulf. First, it is located in protected entrance of the sea, locally called “Al Khor”. Second, fresh water exists at relatively shallow depth.
Historical sources show that as early as 1756 AD there were three locations on the coast between Al Katif (Qutif in Saudi Arabia) and Sir (Ras Al Khaima), which are Al Ajir, Qatar and Sharjah. These locations contained few residences from which the Basra dates and rice were brought to the Arabs of the desert by the pearl divers.
From time of the early trading with the east to the settlement of the mighty Qawasim sea-faring family and into the first half of the 19th century, Sharjah was the most important port on the lower Arabian Gulf.
Sharjah was completely devastated by the British in 1820 AD, but it revived more rapidly than other ports in the Emirates area. It was then an important air-station connecting the West with India.
It should also be pointed out that the Heart of Sharjah contains large and small architectural buildings and religious structures like mosques and markets that bear witness to city’s development and evolution through time.
Shurooq is developing the Heart of Sharjah, in what is considered as the first and largest ever heritage development in the region. Seeking to reflect what Sharjah was like over half a century ago, the project will restore and revamp the city’s traditional areas to create a tourist and trade destination with contemporary artistic touches, yet retain the feel of the 1950s.
Scheduled for completion in 2025, the first of five phases is already underway, and Shurooq has set up a joint committee – comprising representatives from leading governmental and private bodies – to oversee the implementation of this first phase. The Heart of Sharjah will also be realised in accordance with international standards of sustainable development and environmental principles.
The National Council of Tourism and Antiquities in collaboration with the local supervisory departments has nominated seven Emirati sites for entry on the tentative list of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. The nominated places included three sites from Sharjah (Sir Bu Nair Island, the Cultural Landscape of the Central Region – Mleiha– and Heart of Sharjah), one site from Abu Dhabi (Settlement and Cementery of Umm an-Nar Island), Khor Dubai, Ed-Dur Site in Umm Al Quwain and Al Bidya Mosque in Fujairah. The addition of new sites to the list contributes to highlighting the rich heritage of the UAE, which dates back to hundreds of years in the past.
In 2011, Al Ain City became the first United Arab Emirates’ site to be listed by UNESCO as World Heritage. In the same year, the organisation approved to study the file of the ancient Sharjah and the emirate’s bid for registration on the tentative list of the World Heritage Sites, an achievement which is realised after two years of dedicated efforts.
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Yousef Al Taweel
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