Qasr al Hosn festival

Qasr al Hosn fort

The Qasr al Hosn festival is an annual festival in Abu Dhabi that takes place in the grounds where the first Abu Dhabi watch tower was built back in the 1760s. From that point onward, the community began to expand, the Bani Yas tribe settled on Abu Dhabi island and the ruling family further added to the original watch tower to turn the Qasr al Hosn into a fort. The fort remained the home of the Al Nahyan royal family for generations, and is currently under going careful archeological renovations to return the site to its former glory and expose the original coral brick work.

Qasr al Hosn fort watch tower
Qasr al Hosn fort watch tower

I had heard about the festival when I first moved to the city, although I hadn’t really understood what it was all about and so not bothered to go along. I hadn’t been able to find much solid information about it online and had just assumed that it would, quite frankly be a bit rubbish. I’d heard much more about it since, and it sparked my interest, especially when I learned that 2014 would be the first year that tours of the original fort would be on offer as part of the festival. I’ve always loved history, so historical sites are right up my street!
I went along on the first day the festival was open to the general public and was really surprised at what I found. The space was much bigger than I had expected, and this was particularly surprising given the location of the Qasr al Hosn right in the centre of the current business district beside Hamdan Street.

Traditional Emirati celebration dance
Traditional Emirati celebration dance

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Traditional celebration dances
Traditional celebration dances

The festival itself is split into four themed areas – desert, oasis, marine and Abu Dhabi island and each area showcases a range of demonstrations and activities that you can get involved in. There really is heaps going on – story telling, camel milking, traditional food tasting, falcons and salukis (persian dogs), palm weaving, camel rides, horse riding, traditional children’s games, henna, oyster shucking and culturing, fish net making, dhow building and so much more. It really is an amazing opportunity to get up close with traditional Emirati culture and to learn more not only about the beginnings of the country, but about the traditional trades and arts of the culture.

A pocket of history in the middle of the city
A pocket of history in the middle of the city
Arabic spices
Arabic spices
Oyster culturing
Oyster culturing

A personal highlight was definitely the opportunity to tour inside the inner walls of the Qasr al Hosn fort itself and step inside the first national chamber council which was once the original political centre of the country.

Qasr al Hosn fort
Qasr al Hosn fort
Mohammed, Qasr al Hosn fort guide
Mohammed, Qasr al Hosn fort guide
Qasr al Hosn fort entrance
Qasr al Hosn fort entrance
Fort watch tower
Fort watch tower
UAE National Chamber Council
UAE National Chamber Council

As well as demonstrations and activities, there are also loads of workshops that you can sign up for – free of charge – to have a go yourself at whichever traditional handicraft tickles your fancy. I signed up for a pottery making workshop which was a lot of fun, though I must say that the pot I produced is not the masterpiece I would have liked!

My effort at traditional pottery!
My effort at traditional pottery!

If you live in the UAE and you haven’t yet been along, you really should go and take a look, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find. I, for one am already looking forward to returning next year to see the progression of the fort, and hopefully by then the inside of the buildings will also be open to the public.

The Qasr al Hosn festival will set you back a mere Dhs10 to get in and runs for two weeks in February each year. After then, to get a chance to tour the Qasr al Hosn fort, you will have to wait until next year’s festival.

Let me know your thoughts and comments here!

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