Following more than a decade of restoration, Abu Dhabi’s beloved Qasr Al Hosn has reopened its doors. We speak to director Salama Al Shamsi to find out what’s now on offer at this historic landmark.
What has the reopening of this cultural monument meant to you?
“I have grown up alongside this historic fort and I am still in awe of this treasured symbol of Emirati cultural heritage. Qasr Al Hosn has been a major constant in a rapidly changing landscape, reflecting the many phases of Abu Dhabi’s growth, from the home of the ruling family to a seat of governance then a national archive. Now, after major conservation and renovation work to the structure, and the contribution of a number of teams from the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), including architects, historians and archeologists, it stands as a living memorial of the nation and a narrator of the city’s history.”
Salama Al Shamsi
During this extensive renovation process, what were some of the essential components and values from the original Qasr Al Hosn site that were carried forward?
“Today, Qasr Al Hosn holds a new role – that of a museum, with exhibits and precious artefacts that tell the story of who we are and where we came from. The conservation management plan for Qasr al Hosn had prescribed that any repairs to its historic fabric use traditional materials and techniques. The conservation teams at DCT Abu Dhabi worked extensively over the past decade to maintain the originality of Qasr Al Hosn using materials such as palm trunks, palm fronds, coral, stone and mangrove poles to demonstrate traditional building techniques.
In terms of historic values of the site, our aim is that Qasr Al Hosn remains a multipurpose and ever-changing space, watching over the city to both listen and retell its stories. After all, it was there that major debates occurred, leading to the union of the emirates in 1971.”
Can you tell us more about the site and the permanent exhibition housed in the fort?
“Qasr Al Hosn comprises two major buildings: the Inner Fort (originally constructed in 1795) and the Outer Palace (1939-45). Over the centuries, it has been home to the ruling family, the seat of government, a consultative council and a national archive. It’s part of a larger site – Al Hosn – that also includes the National Consultative Council building, the Cultural Foundation and the House of Artisans.
The permanent displays and immersive experiences at the Inner Fort trace the history of Abu Dhabi through five major stops: the early settlement on Abu Dhabi Island, the move of the Bani Yas tribe from Liwa Oasis, Qasr Al Hosn as a home of dialogue and cultural expression, a new era of confidence with Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and how Qasr Al Hosn became a symbol of the emirate with Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates.
Visitors to the Outer Palace, will be able to go on a journey into the life of the men, women and children who lived and worked in the palace. From the time of Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Qasr Al Hosn was both a working palace and a family home, its courtyards, corridors and rooms full of the sights and sounds of daily life. The exhibits invite visitors to step back in time to explore what life was like for the people of the palace.”
Can you share more details of Qasr Al Hosn’s varied annual calendar of public events and workshops?
“The Al Hosn site is a year-round destination for cultural discovery and extensive historical, archaeological and architectural research. From daily activations and demonstrations to traditional performances, visitors will have a chance to learn about traditional Emirati crafts such as Al Sadu (weaving), Tali (traditional embroidery) and Khoos (palm leaves weaving), while enjoying a slew of performances such as Al Ayyala (traditional musical performance) and Al Taghrooda (poetry).
Additionally, we will be announcing a series of specialised tours highlighting major themes including: architecture, archaeology, history, anthropology and genealogy.”
How would you suggest visitors plan out their day at Qasr Al Hosn?
“Personally, I would start by spending the morning at Qasr Al Hosn fort, wandering through the palace and the historic watchtower. Then stroll through the landscape, marvelling at the water feature and the oasis inspired by the polygonal-patterned shapes of dried salt flats. Visitors can also check out the daily events such as falconry demonstrations. In the afternoon, head to the Cultural Foundation and take in the current exhibition, walk through the artists’ studios and enjoy the architecture. Finally, take part in one of the afternoon workshops, such as acrylic painting with a local artist, followed by an evening talk from a leading industry expert.”