Heart of Sharjah is still a work in progress, due for completion in 2025, but the 15-year landmark restoration project has breathed new life into the very birthplace of the emirate
The emirate of Sharjah has championed the arts in the UAE long before the creative scene in its sister emirates began taking shape. In 2014, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO) named the emirate the Islamic Cultural Capital. And the year 2019 marks 21 years since UNESCO named Sharjah the Cultural Capital of the Arab World. Through the years, Sharjah has always stood out as one of the UAE’s true cultural gems, but the emirate is not keen to rest on its laurels.
The ambitious Heart of Sharjah project only proves that the city has its sights set on a bright future while maintaining a firm focus on its past. The Heart of Sharjah restoration project has drastically transformed the city’s cultural landscape since it first broke ground in 2010. Although the site is still a work in progress, due for completion in 2025, the landmark development has breathed new life into the emirate and is already attracting thousands of visitors. The attraction has also made it to the list of candidates to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.As part of this 15-year undertaking, many of Sharjah’s heritage sites will be restored to their former glory.
Several traditional houses, souks, forts, museums and art galleries have already been painstakingly revived to reflect life in the emirate in the 1950s.Preserving the nation’s rich heritage is at the heart of this dedicated effort. The exhibits found within the art galleries housed in the area narrate an inspiring tale of Sharjah’s past, which dates back to the 11th century when Arab geographer, Al Sharif Al Idrisir, recorded an early port in the location of Sharjah. Thanks to the abundance of rice, dates and pearls, trade flourished in the region. In the 18th century, Sharjah became a main port on the coast between Saudi Arabia and Ras Al Khaimah, facilitating the exchange of goods with Iraq. Colonisation in the 19th century destroyed the port, but with local efforts, trade routes were re-established in the early 1900s.
The resulting commercial activity revived Sharjah’s economy and helped residents build homes, markets and mosques. These magnificent structures still stand today in Sharjah’s heritage heartland as a testament to the city’s growth and development over the decades. Since the mid-1950s, Heart of Sharjah has been excluded in urban development plans to preserve its heritage. While subtle contemporary touches have been added, it still evokes the city’s old-world charm. A boutique hotel, Al Bait Sharjah, was recently opened, offering five-star luxury with the ambience of a bygone era. Old marketplaces have also been refurbished to give visitors a glimpse into 20th-century bazaars.
Art galleries here feature permanent displays and also host temporary exhibitions offering insights into the region. Upon completion, the area will also be home to archaeological museums with intriguing finds, some discovered in the nearby town of Mleiha. Walking tours are popular around the newly-restored site and offer the chance to take in everything that Heart of Sharjah has to offer. It is here that visitors can embark on a journey through the emirate’s past and explore its rich heritage.
Spacious art galleries dotted across Heart of Sharjah, showcase prominent works by local and international artists
BAIT AL SERKAL One of the most important buildings in Sharjah’s arts area, this lovingly restored 19th-century historic house is central to Sharjah Biennial. It is also often used as a space for exhibitions, workshops and events.
SHARJAH CALLIGRAPHY MUSEUM This museum was opened in 2002 to showcase the art of Arabic calligraphy. It features multimedia exhibitions from local and international artists.
SHARJAH ART MUSEUMBoasting one of the largest art exhibitions in the region, with permanent collections and paintings by renowned artists, Sharjah Art Museum is a tribute to local painters and Arab artists who have made an indelible impression in the local and Arab art world.
Learn about Sharjah’s past and present with a visit to the museums housed within Heart of Sharjah
SHARJAH HERITAGE MUSEUM A tribute to the emirate’s past, the museum highlights Sharjah’s rich heritage and the culture of the local people. Taking visitors on a journey through the Bedouin’s unforgiving environment, its exhibits take a closer look at the early influence of the expansive coastline on local lifestyles, when fishing and pearl diving were the mainstays of the economy. The museum also highlights local customs, including Arabic hospitality, celebrations and wedding ceremonies, while also presenting tales, proverbs and poems that were an integral part of the local culture.
SHARJAH AL HISN MUSEUM One of the most important heritage buildings in the emirate, Sharjah Al Hisn Museum or Sharjah Fort was built in 1823 and served as the headquarters and residence of the ruling family. Today, the fort houses a modern history museum that reflects Sharjah’s past through a collection of photographs and artefacts.
BAIT AL NABOODAH MUSEUM The home of a prominent pearl merchant during the 1800s, Bait Al Naboodah offers a glimpse into the days gone by. Its authentic architecture has been well preserved, reflecting the traditional designs of homes that belonged to wealthy merchants of the century. Stepping inside this 19th-century structure is akin to travelling back in time, where you can learn more about the lifestyle of the fortunate few during the emirate’s early days.
AL ESLAH SCHOOL MUSEUM Established in 1935, Al Eslah School was the first formal education institution to open in Sharjah, welcoming pupils from all over the region. Here, you can explore the classrooms, sit on students’ desks and admire the magnificence of the Holy Quran stands made from palm fronds.
A marketplace of memories
Get your fix of retail therapy at Sharjah’s oldest souks
OLD SOUQ This 25-year-old traditional marketplace offers good bargains on everything from clothing and food to fragrances. The souk also houses an art museum that features a permanent display of creative pieces from the collection of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.
SOUQ AL SHANASIYAH One of the oldest and most vibrant souks in the region, visitors will find shops selling all manner of trinkets, from antiques to crafts, many of which make for great souvenirs. The souk also boasts several restaurants and cafés serving up traditional Emirati treats.
SOUQ AL ARSAH In the olden days, Souq Al Arsah served as the meeting point for Bedouins. Today, the air-conditioned alleyways of the souk are dotted with stores selling unique handicrafts, wooden artefacts, pearl chests, coffee pots, ethnic jewellery, carpets, scarves and perfumes.
SOUQ SAQR Set along Sharjah Creek, this picturesque waterfront bazaar is a feast for the senses with stores selling everything from spices and herbs to vibrant textiles, perfumes and oils.