January 10: Sunday.
Depart the United States.
January 11: - Monday. Muscat.
Change planes in Dubai and continue on to Muscat. Upon arrival transfer to the Shangri-la Al Waha Hotel. Balance of the day at leisure.
For thousands of years, since civilizations were first recorded, the countries around the Arabian Sea have not only given birth to great cultures, but on their shores disparate flowerings of civilizations have met and mingled. What is now the Sultanate of Oman was historically the link between East and West, Arabia and Africa. Oman dominated the trade routes from Moorish Spain to Canton; her ships and seafarers sailed into harbors worldwide; her merchants traded in the commodities of civilization, such as frankincense, myrrh and silk, as well as gold, spices and coffee. Many of the strands of Oman’s immeasurably and long and dramatic history are still present in the people, their architecture and their way of life. But there is one factor that has given Omani history a special consistency - the sea. After countless centuries in which Oman dominated the Indian Ocean’s commerce, governing Zanzibar and Gwadur, maritime patterns changed, steam supplanted sail and Oman slipped as a world power. Since the mid-18th century Muscat has been the seat of the Al-Busaid dynasty, the currently ruling family of Oman. The present leader, HM Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al-Said, descended from the region’s oldest secular dynasty and took the reins of government in 1970. At that time the former maritime empire that once extended from India to Zanzibar had faded into obscurity. There were 3 schools (for boys only) and one hospital existed. Today there is guaranteed electricity, running water, roads, housing, excellent social services in the country with more than 1,000 schools providing free education for children of both sexes, and comprehensive hospital and health services
Early evening reception and hors d’oeuvres this evening. R.
January 12: - Tuesday. Muscat.
Begin exploring the city of Muscat this morning. Development in Oman did not really begin until much later than other Gulf States and thus the country has had the fortune to learn from the mistakes of others. The result is a capital that has retained much of its traditional architecture and beauty, while making great strides toward modernization. Stop at the wonderful and newly-opened Bait Al Baranda Museum where director, Malik Al Hinai will meet the group. This new museum, in a renovated house, traces the history and prehistory of Muscat through imaginative, interactive displays and exhibits. The excellent ethnographical displays help set, not just Muscat, but the whole of Oman in a regional, commercial and cultural context.
Enjoy lunch on board a boat and admire the beauty of Muscat’s Mutrah Harbor and understand the importance of the sea to Oman’s history. Muscat means “anchorage” and the sea continues to constitute one half of the city. The second century philosopher Ptolemy – mentioned a ‘concealed” harbor perhaps the first documented reference to Muscat. . It’s surrounded on three sides by mountains making it almost inaccessible from the land. Indeed, the original settlers, thought to be Arab traders from Yamane almost certainly approached it from the sea. Disembarking the boat and drive past the Sohar, a replica 9th century boat that the British explorer Tim Severin sailed 6,000 miles across the Indian Ocean from Muscat to Canton. The boat was named after the home town of Oman’s most famous sailor, Sinbad, and retraced the ancient silk route between Arabia, India, Southeast Asia and China. These boats were adapted by Omani mariners from Indonesian boats around 100 AD. Traditional baghala ships still float in the harbor lavishly carved like galleons. Unfortunately, nowadays they are all motorized. For many centuries the people of Muscat have provided, as they do now, the food, water and cargoes for visiting ships. Surrounding Mutrah Harbor are fine old merchant houses and three fine forts – Fort Jajali, Fort Mirani and Mutrah Fort.
Stop in at the Beit Al Zubair Musrum and meet with director, Sarah White, an accomplished artist. The museum, housed in a beautifully restored house exhibits Omani heritage in photographs and displays of traditional handicrafts and furniture. .
Late afternoon visit to Mutrah Souk which retains the chaotic interest of a traditional Arab market. There are some good antique shops as well as a number of Omani artifacts. One whole area specializes in gold.
Welcome dinner at the hotel this evening. B,L,D.
January 13: - Wednesday. Muscat.
This morning wander through the Fish Market at Muttrah. It’s a fascinating experience. The fishermen are grouped together in a big building. They sell their freshly-caught fish and one can find many varieties from tuna, shrimps, octopus to shark sometimes! Once purchased, the men and young boys will quickly and with great expertise de-bone the fish and wrap it to go!
Continue on to the city’s wonderful Grand Mosque – a superb example of contemporary Islamic architecture. The architecture, space and fittings are an incredible collection of the works of many architects from a variety of Islamic countries. The mosque, which can accommodate more than 20,000 worshippers, truly matches India's Taj Mahal in its architectural exquisiteness. Construction on the mosque was begun in 1995, and it was formally opened in May of 2001. The inaugural ceremony, which took place at the main prayer hall, was marked by the largest ever congregation of Islamic scholars, researchers and historians in Oman.
The mosque complex is constructed on a raised podium in keeping with the tradition of Omani mosques. The developed part of the site, including the fully consolidated areas of landscaping, covers 416,000 square meters. The five minarets stand high as symbols of Islam’s five pillars. The outer walls are ornamented with engraved designs, which include depictions of plants, as well as geometric shapes and Quranic verses. The ornamentation gradually becomes more intense and elaborate as one proceeds towards the interior of the building and its inner sanctum. The walls of the prayer hall are set with stained glass windows with geometric designs and pictures of plants. The main prayer hall can accommodate up to 6,500 worshippers and its walls are topped with parapets of the type originally found in Omani forts. A rich variety of Islamic ornamentation has been incorporated into the designs engraved in the prayer hall’s wooden doors. The inner walls of the main prayer hall are completely covered with off-white and dark grey marble and decorated with geometrically patterned gilded murals in a predominantly Safavid style. The open-plan hall has four main pillars, which support the inner structure of the dome. By the northern and southern walls are arcades with embossed ornate arches in the mamluk architectural decorative tradition, which open onto the prayer hall. A major feature of the interior of the main prayer hall is a hand-woven Persian carpet, which covers the entire area of the main prayer hall in a single piece. The main prayer hall has 35 chandeliers made of Swarovski crystal and gilded metals. The central chandelier, which hangs from the highest point of the dome, is 14 meters in height and eight meters across, has 1,122 lights and weighs eight tons.
Enjoy lunch at a wonderful local restaurant, Kargeens.
After lunch drive to the National History Museum which provides excellent displays on Oman’s geology and geography.
Close by is the American Embassy where the group will receive a briefing.
The final stop for the day will be at the Omani Heritage Gallery where we have arranged a meeting with Mona Ritchie, an anthropologist trying to revive Omani crafts and owner of the Omani Heritage Gallery. The Ritchies are involved in about 15 projects throughout the country and have just published a book called Craft Heritage of Oman.
Evening at leisure. B,L.
January 14: - Thursday. Nizwa
Drive over the Sama’il Pass to the ancient oasis town of Nizwa, once the medieval capital of Oman. En route stop at the lovely village of Birkat Al Mawz which provides a superb example of the falaj traditional irrigation system. The falaj system collects water from nearby mountain in irrigation ditches and brings them to villages. This water is used to irrigate dense groves of date palms, a source of food and exports in Oman. Enjoy a walk through date and banana plantations and admire the wonderful mud-brick homes. Many of these are being abandoned as people move into concrete structures outside of the village.
Upon arrival in the vicinity of Nizwa transfer to the Falaj Daris Hotel.
After lunch begin exploring the area at the Nizwa Fort which was built in the mid-17th century by Sultan Bin Saif, the first Imam of the Al-Ya’ribi dynasty. For the next 300 years this was the primary seat of the Imamate, serving as a combination palace, seat of government and prison. Then fort has recently been restored and provides a fascinating insight into the buildings which dominate much of rural Oman.
End the day at the village of Al Hamra. At the foot of the Hajar Mountains, this beautiful village is one of the oldest in Oman and is interesting for its wonderfully well-preserved row of two- and three-story mud-brick houses built in the Yemeni style. Walk through the narrow streets where little has changed over the last hundred years and visit Bait Al-Safah – a traditional home open to the public.
Return to the hotel for dinner. B,L,D.
January 15: - Friday Nizwa.
This morning enjoy a very special visit to the weekly Nizwa market. The animal souq at the Friday market is an opportunity to witness Oman’s traditional manner of selling livestock. Potential buyers either sit on the circular centerpiece or form a huge circle, where in a counter clockwise motion, sellers, young and old, parade – or carry – their offerings, shouting out the latest bid or asking price. It’s a scene out of medieval times with the men wearing the traditional dishdasha, a simple long-sleeved, ankle-length robe many with hand-embroidered borders and colorful caps. Women’s hands and faces are decorated with henna, and they wear brightly-colored, long-sleeved robes over baggy trousers, fitting tightly at the ankle. Hems and cuffs of the women’s garments are often beautifully embroidered. The souk in Oman is a place people meet in not just to buy and sell but to exchange news and views. Any visit is always a feast for the senses, with pungent spice aromas filling the air, brilliant displays of fabric draped across the narrow alleyways and animated conversations competing with the cries of vendors.
After enjoying the animal market continue on to Nizwa’s fabulous souk, which specializes in finely crafted metalwork including thick silver anklets and curved Omani tribal daggers known as khanjars that are kept on beautiful filigree sheaths. See the men wearing the national dress - a simple long-sleeved, ankle-length robe, known as a dishdasha, with a long piece of material wound, turban-style, around the head.
This afternoon visit the fort of Jabrin. Despite its imposing battlements, the fort was originally built as a palace. Its construction was ordered in the mid- to late-17th century by Imam Bal’arab Bin Sultan Al-Ya’ribi, who is also buried there. The design was only later modified to fortify the building. The Omans have done an excellent job of restoring this site, and it is possible to really get a sense of medieval Oman. Inside, various household items and furnishings are on display. The hand-painted ceilings are spectacular.
Continue on to UNESCO site of Bahla. The oasis of Bahla owes its prosperity to the Banu Nebhan, the dominant tribe in the area from the 12th to the end of the 15th century. The ruins of the immense fort, with its walls and towers of unbaked brick and its stone foundations, is a remarkable example of this type of fortification and attests to the power of the Banu Nebhan. The fort is currently being restored and will open to visitors in 2009.
The final stop for the day will be at the Al Hoota Cave, which is richly embellished with stalactites and stalagagmites and home to a fragile, underground eco-system. The main cave is partially occupied by an underground lake with fair natural air ventilation. A rare phenomenon is the presence of blind transparent fish nourished on organic materials brought by floods inside the cave. This type of fish is only known in this area (garra bareimiae). Access to water is prohibited, but visitors can see the lake from an esplanade and enjoy close-ups of the fish, thanks to digital cameras and LCD monitors.
Dinner at the hotel this evening. B,L,D.
January 16: - Saturday. Ras al-Jinz.
Head to the easternmost point of the Arabian Peninsula at Ras al-Jinz, Our drive today will take us through the Wahiba Desert to the valley of Wadi Bani Khaled, perhaps the most beautiful in Oman. Our experienced drivers will navigate across the undulating sand dunes. The Wahiba Desert is small as far as deserts go, about 4,650 square miles, yet it contains an extraordinary variety of dune forms. Recently it has been the subject of intensive study by the Royal Geographic Society in cooperation with the Omani authorities. These sands are rather unusual. They consist of long ridges of dunes going north-south, with open flat valleys between them. Of all of the world’s deserts it contains the best evidence of environmental changes over the last few tens of thousands of years. There are also significant traces of human occupation in Neolithic times. Our resting spot for lunch is a delightful area, with a chance to swim in the crystal clear water of a large naturally-fed spring.
Enjoy a Barasti meal before heading east to Ras al Jinz and the Carapace Lodge with its 12 rooms.
Located at the headland of the Arabian Peninsula where the Gulf of Oman meets the Arabian Sea, Ras al-Jinz houses one of the largest nesting areas for Green Turtles in the Indian Ocean. At Ras al-Jinz over 30,000 females return annually to the beach where they were hatched in order to lay their eggs. The earliest known sea turtle fossils are about 110 million years old and sea turtles once swam through all the world’s oceans in large numbers but over the last 100 years, hunting for their meat and demand for their eggs, skin and shells has reduced the numbers drastically. Today, six of seven species of sea turtles are in danger of extinction. Five of these turtle species are found in Oman. Oman has an important role to play in the conservation of these endangered species and has taken its role seriously. They use an extensive tagging system to monitor the life habits of these turtles.
After dinner this evening enjoy a guided walk to view the turtles who painfully plough their way up the beach at night to dig the holes in which they lay their hundreds of white eggs. Green turtles are the largest of the hard-shelled sea turtles with the average adult weighing over 400 pounds. They are easily distinguished by the one pair of scales they have in front of their eyes – all other turtles have two. B,L,D.
January 17: - Sunday. Muscat.
Spend the morning at the Ras al-Jinz Scientific and Visitors Center which works towards the conservation of Oman’s natural and cultural heritage. After an early morning turtle walk, there will be a mid-morning lecture followed by lunch.
After lunch return to Muscat stopping at Sur. Many of the conquering and trading fleets of Omani ships have been built at Sur, whose boatyards are still active today. The ship-building trade has always been controlled by just a few families. This morning there will be a chance to watch them at work using traditional methods. The boats built nowadays are only about a tenth of the size of the great ships of 500 or more tons that were built hundreds of years ago for sailing the oceans. In those days, Arabs measured the size of a ship by the number of Basrah dates which could be stowed with 2,500 packages, roughly equaling 150 tons. John Whale’s painting, Sambug Building in the Shipyard at Sur, depicts the four stages of building, done then as now, without plans and with only simple tools - the adze, bow drill, saw and hammer. The hull above the water-line is coated in shark oil, while below a paste of Shahamu, lime mixed with animal fat, is slapped on to protect the teak against the toredo worm.
Upon arrival in Muscat transfer to the Shangri-la Al Waha Hotel. Dinner at leisure. B,L.
January 18: - Monday. Al Fujayrah.
This morning head west to explore the Al-Batinah region, the flat and fertile strip of land between the Hajar Mountains and the Gulf of Oman. This is the country’s breadbasket and most populous area. The area is also known for its Bull-butting – when great Brahmin bulls, specially raised by local farmers, are set nose-to-nose in a push and shove that is said not to hurt either party. The Bull-butting rotates from village to village along the Batinah coast on selected weekends.
Head inland to Rustaq, which enjoyed a spell as Oman’s capital in the 17th-century, to explore the imposing fort and souk. Here, pick up 4WD vehicles to experience the fertile Wadi Hoqain with its wadi-side plantations and villages bustling with activity. Surrounded by copper-colored cliffs and a stunning castle this is a beautiful spot. Return to the coastal road and continue on to Sohar, once the capital of the country, dating back to ancient times. As ibn Hawqal said in the 10th century “Sohar is the capital and is on the sea. Its traders and commerce cannot be enumerated. It is the most developed and wealthy town in Oman. The rest of Islam hardly knows that a town such as Sohar, with its wealth and development, exists”.
A little further on is Al Fujairah, located in the United Arab Emirates. Whilst the town and port itself is not attractive, the dramatic mountain scenery delivers a stunning back-drop to the glorious blue of the Arabian Sea and pristine stretches of beach.
Dinner at the hotel this evening. Al Fujairah Hilton Hotel. B,L,D.
January 19: - Tuesday. Dubai.
This morning visit the Fujairah Museum which displays the archaeological finds from Fujairah including bronze jewelry from the 1st-century and 2nd-century pottery and stoneware along with ethnographic exhibits on UAE heritage and traditions.
The fort at Fujairah has recently been restored and opened. It was built from rocks and a lime-based plaster and dates back to the 16th-century. Bull-butting is popular here and we hope to be able to include an opportunity to see this in an unassuming area outside of town. Bulls are brought from all over the UAE to lock horns and test their strength against each other and are judged by a group of 5-6 Emerati men.
Continue on to Dubai and the Radisson Hotel where rooms overlook the Dubai Creek. Originally a fishing village, Dubai was settled around 1830 by a branch of the Bani Yas tribe from the Liwa Oasis, led by the Al-Maktoum family who still rule this area. Formed in 1971, the UAE – Al Umarat al Arabiyah al Muthahidah as it is known in Arabic – is one of the world’s youngest nations. In its brief history, it has transformed itself into a central player in the area’s development but it has made this transformation with a foresight and insight that is quite remarkable. Oil has been the chief engine of this thrust to modernity. In the early 1950’s crude oil, formed millions of years ago under the desert sands, was discovered and the Emirates, at the time not federated, signed concessions with Western oil companies to exploit the ‘black gold’ under the sands. This was a turning point in the history of the Emirates whose Sheikhs had ruled a population making a living from pearling, date cultivation, livestock and fishing. But the oil is not distributed evenly over the seven Emirates with Abu Dhabi holding 90% of the total reserves. Much of the credit for subsequent development lies with the ruling families of the oil-rich Emirates, where oil-wealth was seen as the means to an end. Many socially beneficial investments in infrastructure, especially water resources, were made. Recognizing that oil is a finite resource – the Emirates have sought to reinvest the fruits of the oil boom into industrial and service sectors. The result is something quite phenomenal. And yet, as things develop at an enormous pace, the country’s rulers have put much effort into reviving the people’s awareness of their traditional heritage and in exploring sites of historical and archaeological interest.
Evening at leisure. B,L.
January 20: - Wednesday. Dubai.
Stepping right outside of the hotel admire the skyscrapers towering above the wooden abras that still ply the waters of the Dubai Creek. Dubai is divided by its creek that runs through the heart of the city. Begin the day by taking a traditional water taxi. From the hotel a short walk brings the group past the crowded wharfs where men heave boxes of refrigerators and color television sets onto dhows bound for more remote corners of the world. See sailors from Somalia, Ethiopia and Iraq as they load their boats up with goods. Join the locals and board a boat to take you across Deira Creek to the heart of old Dubai. Under the shadows of skyscrapers one is quickly transported to a neighborhood of wind-tower houses and covered souks. A walking tour will take the group through the heart of Deira to the Dubai Museum, located in the Al Fahidi Fort, which is clearly identifiable by the stone towers and the large wooden dhow to the left of the museum entrance. The museum recreates, through superb audio-visual equipment, many aspects of Arab life including an excellent reconstruction of a dhow and the Dubai souk in 1950. It offers a fascinating introduction to life in Dubai prior to the discovery of oil. Right next door is a large white modern building with traditional wind-tower motifs – this is the new ruler’s Diwan. Wander through the area known as Bastakia where a number of old merchant homes can still be found. Visit the Majlia Art Gallery, which is built around a traditional central courtyard. It contains a collection of contemporary local art, a selection of handicrafts as well as paintings and photographs of local subjects.
Enjoy lunch at the Sheikh Muhammad Center for Cultural Understanding. Staff from the center will share with the group what life is like in Dubai.
After lunch return to the east-side of the creek and wander through the gold souk and the spice souk – a warren of tiny shops offering rare spices and wonderful prices for gold.
Return to the hotel mid-afternoon for a chance to relax before boarding an authentic renovated dhow for a wonderful dinner cruise along the Dubai Creek. The word “dhow” does not begin to capture the variety of wooden-ship forms, some harking back to the Portuguese galleons that sailed these shores from the 16th century. Enjoy an intriguingly different view of this amazing city - a portrait of the true character of Dubai - the interlining of the modern and the traditional. Admire an excellent view of the Heritage and Diving Villages and the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House - characterized by their traditional Arabic architectural design featuring wind towers (barajeel) and sand-colored walls. As the dhow sails upstream towards the heart of the city pass the Bur Dubai textile souk, noted for its elegant wooden rooftop and the Grand Mosque. Perhaps one of the most striking testimonies to Dubai’s claim to be a ‘City of Contrasts’ is found as one journey’s from the heart of the city’s origins, past the dhow wharf’s and on towards some of Dubai’s modern architectural structures located on the Deira side of the Creek. These include the Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry building, a triangular complex located next to the National Bank of Dubai headquarters, a mirrored glass complex with an unusual and shapely contour, and the locally-renowned Etisalat tower, which is topped by a giant ‘golf ball’ - a common feature of every Etisalat building in the UAE!
Travel under the Al Maktoum Bridge and alongside Creekside Park, past the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club - with its unique shaped clubhouse like the sail of a dhow. As the dhow passes under the Al Garhoud Bridge, admire some of the city’s newer developments, including the Children’s Museum. B,L,D.
January 21: - Thursday. Dubai.
Begin this morning with a very unique presentation “Open Hearts, Open Minds,” at the Jumeirah Mosque. The mosque, which has been built in the style of a medieval Fatimid mosque, is comprised of two graceful minarets. Its large central dome is surrounded by four minor domes, each with the traditional moon symbol at the top. The mosque is built with a stone that gives it an almost golden glow. Generally, non-Muslims are not permitted to enter a mosque. However we have received special permission from the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) to enter. The Jumeirah Grand Mosque is the first and only mosque in the United Arab Emirates to open its doors to non-Muslims. Upon entering the mosque the group will meet with a local Muslim Emerati who will offer an excellent introduction to Islam. They begin by covering the very basic components of the religion – why do Muslims pray five times a day? After laying the groundwork they will move on to describe Muslim life in the UAE today. Islam is the state religion and its Muslim identity perhaps the most important unifying aspect of UAE culture. The call to prayer echoes throughout the streets but, unlike several neighborhood Gulf States, other faiths are tolerated and indeed officially sanctioned. Christian churches may be found in many of the main population centers and the entire concept of tolerance is emphasized in the UAE. This unique presentation will enable participants to learn about the ‘Five Pillars’ of Islam, the culture of the Emirates and its traditions. The last part of the visit is dedicated to a “Question & Answer” session in which travelers are encouraged to ask any questions they may have relating to Islam and the Arab culture in a free and open forum.
After lunch at one of Dubai’s shopping malls, drive south of the center of Dubai to the area known as Jumeirah – an affluent area with superb beaches and a number of very good shopping malls. It is also the headquarters of the development known as, “The Palm Island.” Here a private presentation will focus on two new developments – The Palm Islands and The World. These two developments will be the first man-made islands visible from outer space. Between the two of these projects the Emirate of Dubai is planning on building the world’s largest artificial islands and its tallest building. The Palm Islands will actually consist of two islands – The Palm, Jebel Ali and The Palm, Jumeirah. About 350 million cubic feet of rock, sand and earth are being placed off the coast of Dubai in the shape of two palm trees. The project will create 75 miles of new coastline, will have 5,000 homes and 30 hotels. The Palm, Jebel Ali will be an island of recreation with a water theme park and an aquarium. The planned opening year is 2007. The Palm, Jumeirah will be residential. Gated apartment buildings and villas in 28 architectural styles, marinas, shops and 30 boutique hotels will be built. A dive park with artificial reefs and submerged wrecks will lie just off the main island. Seven miles of a barrier reef will form a protective breakwater around the entire island. Although they will not be ready until 2005, three thousand of the homes sold within three days of coming on the market!
The World will consist of 200 country-themed islands clustered to form the outlines of the world and its continents. Each island will represent a specific country and access will be by boat only. Part of the project will include 1,600 luxury vacation homes on stilts over the water so that when seen from the air, they spell out, in Arabic calligraphy, an aphorism from one of his poems, “Take wisdom from the wise, not everyone who rides is a jockey.” Each island will range from 250,000 to 900,000 square feet and there will be approximately 50 to 100 meters of water between each island. Surrounded by an oval shaped breakwater, the development will cover an area nine kilometers in length and six kilometers in width. Access to the development will be by marine transport only - there will be no road access. After a fascinating briefing on these projects return to the hotel. B,L.
January 22: - Friday. Dubai.
This morning head east to the Emirate of Sharjah, which is just a few minutes away from Dubai. In 1998 the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) chose Sharjah as the Capital of Arab Culture. Our first stop will be at the University of Sharjah where we will meet with Dr. Salim Sabri, Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs. The university is an impressive academic institution, offering a comprehensive array of academic and research programs. It offers degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels in many disciplines, including the humanities, liberal arts and culture, social sciences, communication, engineering and architecture, business administration, applied sciences, Islamic law, common law, fine art and design, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and health sciences. The University is aware of its pivotal role in the socio-economic development of the Emirate of Sharjah and the UAE. In addition to its main campus in Sharjah City, the University has built campus facilities to provide education and training programs directly to several communities throughout the Emirate of Sharjah.
Continue on to the old town of Sharjah. When Sharjah’s wealthy 19th-century pearl traders established their mercantile district at the entrance to Khaled Lagoon on the Arabian Gulf, they built a series of fine, functional houses. At that time they could hardly have suspected the impact that cultured pearls would have on their world, contributing to the demise of the once-vibrant pearl diving industry. However, before the introduction of cultured pearls, these traders made Sharjah the pre-eminent trading city of the Gulf and took them to countries as far away as Persia and India. They would travel on pearling vessels with their trader boxes of pearl scoops, scales, weighing masses and nested pearl sieves. The residential area of these traders, which had fallen into disrepair, has recently been transformed into a whitewashed warren of courtyards, squares, high-walled alleyways, elegant wind towers and beautifully renovated old merchants’ houses tucked in behind the corniche. The simple, but dignified two-storey houses are built around a shaded courtyard and keep cool inside by wind towers, or barjeel, which work by convection of breezes caught by the open-faced towers, and which are remarkably effective.
The buildings have been faithfully restored using traditional techniques and materials. Many of these former homes have been converted into museums reflecting a particular aspect of Arab and Islamic heritage, from numismatics to folk medicine to costumes and cosmetics. In the Science Hall of the Islamic Museum, the first known map of the globe is shown. The globe was drawn in 1099 by Al Shareef Al Idrisi and is a potent reminder of the scientific and cultural sway the Arab world commanded a millennium ago. Just around the corner is the astrolabe, a kind of early sextant that preceded its European counterpart by centuries. A short walk from the astrolabe is the Museum of Popular Medicine, with its mounds of spices, sacks of herbs and piles of minerals that had application from sterility treatment to surgery. The museum recalls how Sharjah was historically known as a medical as well as a commercial center. The Eslah Museum reconstructs Sharjah’s first modern school, complete with its benches and hinged-double desks containing pens and inkpots from India.
Sharjah has not forgotten its pearl divers. The Maritime Museum, housed in the elegant Bait Al Naboodah, bears testament to the rigors of that calling, with its displays of lead, stone and iron conical ankle weights used to speed divers descents, and silk trouser suits to ward off the barbed overtures of jellyfish.
(There is also a very good Natural History Museum outside of town – we can talk about whether to include this)
The final stop for the day will be the Iron Age village of Muweilah. The site is important because of the fact that fire destroyed what appears to be an extensive building complex, preserving a large quantity of artifacts in their original setting. Peter Magee has been involved in the excavation of this site which was occupied by a complex society nearly three thousand years ago.
Return to Dubai and enjoy a farewell dinner this evening at the Burj Al Arab hotel. B,L,D.
January 23: Saturday. - Return
Return to the USA. B.