BEIRUT: Abu Dhabi will open its oldest standing structure in February to visitors for a tour, a rarity since preservation efforts began on Qasr al-Hosn, a 250-year-old fortress.
Qasr al-Hosn was the first permanent structure built in the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi and dates back only to the second half of the 18th century. The original fort was made from seastone and fossilized coral and was used by the commanding tribe in the mid-1700s as a watchtower controlling access to the island. The emirate will open the fort for its 10-day annual commemoration, the Qasr al-Hosn Festival, from Feb. 20 to March 1.
“Qasr al-Hosn Festival is an annual opportunity to celebrate this magnificent national monument and iconic symbol of Abu Dhabi’s proud history and identity and to engage our community in the development of the Qasr al-Hosn restoration program,” said Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
Founder of the young emirate, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, began renovation efforts of Qasr al-Hosn to repurpose the historic structure from part of the royal residence into a museum and repository for artifacts related to Emirati heritage. Restoration efforts renewed after corrosive moisture was discovered on the building’s facade.
In addition to guided tours of the fortress mid-restoration, the festival aims to highlight local cultural heritage through performances, poetry recitals and a locally produced short-film series, which will be hosted at the Cultural Foundation just adjacent to the fort.
Organizers will also divide the festival grounds based on the emirate’s climactic regions – desert, oasis, marine and Abu Dhabi Island – and focus on the various traditions and crafts from those areas. For example, the Cultural Foundation will be hosting a “Gahwa” space to show off traditional Emirati coffee rituals and to sell traditional types of coffee.
The emirate has teamed up with the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, Normand Latourelle, to bring to Abu Dhabi a special equestrian performance called “Cavalia at Qasr al-Hosn,” featuring more than 40 show horses alongside musicians and live performers.
Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Ministry hosts the event each year, and last year’s festival attracted thousands of visitors, according to a press release announcing the 2014 lineup.
“Qasr al-Hosn represents the foundation of the nation’s capital and symbolizes more than two and a half centuries of Emirati heritage and cultural development,” said Sultan bin Tahnoon al-Nahyan, chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.
“The public program of this year’s Qasr al-Hosn Festival reflects Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority’s holistic vision of culture, which embraces both tangible and intangible heritage. The festival is a key part of the authority’s commitment to the preservation of architectural and archaeological assets, as well as to the development of visual and performing arts, literature and poetry to celebrate the Emirati identity.”