Sharjah Fort, the emirate's most important historic building, is welcoming visitors for the first time since it underwent extensive renovation work.
Now restored to its original appearance, the majestic fort, known as Al Hisn, offers the public a unique opportunity to experience the history that has shaped the emirate and its people. It has been updated to include exciting interactive features, audio-visuals, reconstructions and stories, taking visitors on an engaging journey through two centuries of history.
His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, recently visited Sharjah Fort in the presence of His Highness Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Sharjah, upon completion of the renovation work.
The restoration of Sharjah's most significant heritage site coincides with the emirate's year as Capital of Arab Tourism, as elected by the Arab Council of Tourism Ministers. The renovated fort is the jewel in the crown of Sharjah's tourist attractions and further strengthens the emirate's diverse offerings as a destination for regional and international visitors.
Manal Ataya, Director-General of Sharjah Museums Department, SMD, said, "Al Hisn Fort really is the very heart of Sharjah, having been the seat of government, the centre of defence and justice in the emirate. Its legacy resonates in modern Sharjah like no other building.
"Now, thanks to the meticulous work of a team of conservationists, many of the fort's distinctive architectural features have been brought back to life. It has been updated to provide an enriching and interactive experience that will give visitors a unique feel for what life would have been like for residents through the different periods of Sharjah's past.
"Indeed, much of the information on display is based on the memories and oral histories of members of the community, and this reflects one of our main goals at Sharjah Museums Department: to ensure that our museums are about real people, not just antiquities."
A conservation team worked tirelessly for 15 months to restore the original appearance, colour and texture of the building and to accurately portray the fort's distinctive architectural features, including its wind-scoops, columns and crenulations.
Sharjah Fort contains a number of iconic collections that present the history of the fort, which was built in 1823 by Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr I. Visitors can explore 12 exciting galleries, rich in information gathered by SMD teams during five years of painstaking research.
The Al Hisn gallery provides visitors with a historic overview of the fort, charting its changing roles from secure royal residence and seat of government through to its time as a police station, its demolition in 1969, and subsequent restorations.
The Qawasim gallery is where visitors can learn about the origins of the Qasimi ruling family as they battled regional and foreign powers to gain new territories, defend their existing lands and protect their livelihood. Focusing mainly on the 18th and 19th centuries, the gallery also highlights the Qawasim's financial and naval strength. Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr I's story is explored here, including his three-years confinement.
An original Quran holder dating back to the mid-1860s is among the treasures on display in the Qawasim gallery.
It was during the reign of Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr II, 1924 to 1951, that Al Hisn became a symbol of Sharjah and the Qawasim, the plural of Al Qasimi, the ruling family. The fort was a central gathering place for local residents and the site of many important governmental decisions that would transform Sharjah.
Much of the historical period covered by the museum falls within Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr II's rule, including a gallery dedicated to his life and times. Here, visitors can discover the story of his fight to regain his rightful position as Ruler of Sharjah and learn about the qualities that made him such an impressive leader.
Displays also reveal what life was like for the people of Sharjah as Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr II steered the emirate through several major historical events and overcame challenges.
Visitors can step inside the original Arrest Room, where prisoners were held pending trial, and the circular, coral stone prison cell. Lifelike models restrained in shackles provide a chilling taste of what their grim existence would have been like, while information boards offer further insight into the trial process and the types of punishment typically meted out for different crimes.
Other highlights of the fort include the Armoury, accessed through the original solid teak door, and the Weapons Gallery containing a selection from the Al Hisn armaments collection, including historic firearms, ammunition and traditional edged weapons, such as swords and daggers.
Visitors will be able to hold a rifle, see how the residents of Sharjah decorated and repaired their weapons, and discover how to properly present a sword to a sheikh. The 1902 firearms prohibition imposed by the British is also explored, along with the subsequent smuggling that took place due to the ban.
Another treat for visitors is Al Medbasa, the room in which Al Hisn residents would make dibs (date molasses). The grooves in the floor along which the dibs flowed into a pot set in the lowest corner can still be seen. Collecting dates was a social event, and the Medbasa enabled the residents of Al Hisn to be self-sufficient.
Sharjah Fort welcomes visitors throughout the week, Saturday to Thursday from 8a.m. till 8 p.m. and Friday from 4p.m. till 8p.m.