The sun rises over Qasr Al Hosn in downtown Abu Dhabi. Built around 1795, the original hosn (fort) was the emirate’s first permanent structure: a coral and sea stone watchtower built to protect the pearling settlement of Abu Dhabi. The building assumed many guises over the 20th century but, after over a decade of reconstruction, it reopened as a landmark cultural centre in late 2018.
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Guards stand at the entrance to the qasr (outer palace), built between 1939–45 around the inner fort, where the ruling Al Nahyan family took up residence. The National Consultative Council building was later built nearby, the setting of negotiations for the unification of the UAE in 1971. The Cultural Foundation – which included the UAE’s first library plus a theatre and an exhibition hall – was added in 1981.
Visitors can sign up for guided tours of the site; there’s also a calendar of public events, including exhibitions, cultural performances and craft workshops.
Asma Salem Al Maskari (right), visitor experience specialist with the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, points out the features of exhibits to new tour guides.
An Emirati artisan demonstrates the traditional Al Sadu weaving technique using a hand loom – an intricate craft protected on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Grasping thin bamboo sticks (which signify spears or swords), a group of men perform the traditional Al Ayyala folk dance. Free performances take place every Friday (4pm) and Sunday (10am).
Fit as a fiddle
Dancers disperse after performing the Al Ayyala.
No strings attached
An Emirati plays the rebabah, a traditional instrument (performances: Mon-Thur, 10am-1pm; Fri-Sat, 4-7pm; Sun, 4-6pm).
Meticulously restored to its original state, the North Eastern Burj was the first building on Abu Dhabi Island and is considered the genesis site of the modern emirate.
The changing of the guard ceremony takes place at the fort entrance at 2pm Saturday to Thursday and 6pm Friday.
Sound of silence
An Emirati woman savours a moment of quiet solitude in one of the fort’s arcades.
As night falls, Qasr Al Hosn lights up, a glowing beacon in the middle of the desert city.