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Decision : 35 COM 8B.24
Cultural Properties - Cultural Sites of Al Ain (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas) (United Arab Emirates)

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Documents WHC-11/35.COM/8B and WHC-11/35.COM/INF.8B1,

2. Inscribes the Cultural Sites of Al Ain (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas), United Arab Emirates, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (iii), (iv) and (v);

3. Takes note of the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:


Brief synthesis

Located in the city of Al Ain, on the eastern region of Abu Dhabi Emirate, in the United Arab Emirates, The Cultural Sites of Al Ain comprise the Hafit Assemblage; Hili Assemblage; Bidaa Bint Saud site; and the Oases (Al Ain Oasis, Mutared, Muwaiji, Hili, Jimi and Qattara) spread across the city's interior. The sites are reminiscent of the cultures of Hili, Hafit (both type-sites) and Umm an-Nar. They are set together in a landscape characterized by the oasis, the desert and the mountain, and bear witness to unique cultural traditions, which developed on the crossroads of ancient routes between what is nowadays Oman, Saudi Arabia and the coastal settlements of the UAE. These cultural sites are the remaining representatives of a vanished culture which developed and manifested its cultural expression via unique and quite distinctive technological developments such as the ingenious falaj system and its associated falaj management system, through specific architectural traditions such as the circular fortified settlement at Hili 8 and through the specific funerary traditions of Hafit and Hili Grand Tomb and Tomb N architecture, among others.

Criterion (iii): The Cultural Sites of Al Ain trace the evolution of society in that part of the world from mobile hunter-gatherer groups of the Neolithic period (6th millennium to 4th millennium BC in Al Ain) with remains discovered alongside the eastern ridge of Jebel Hafit, to small- scale farming communities (3rd millennium BC Bronze Age communities) which practiced limited well-irrigation farming and lived in fortified circular settlements (Hili 1, 8 and 10), to larger oasis- agriculture communities (late second to first millennium BC sites at Hili 2, 14 and 17) with expanded farm-land that evolved following the successful invention of the falaj system and its complex management structure. The Iron Age settlement at Hili Archaeological Park, with its distinctive fortified architecture and circular tombs, includes one of the most ancient extant falaj irrigation systems in the world. The so-called Beit al Falaj public building provides insights into this complex culture, which challenged the environment, developed a distinctive repertoire of defensive settlement architecture and produced an enigmatic funerary tradition representative of highly sophisticated communal burial traditions and rituals. The Grand Tomb at Hili, the largest and most well-known from the Umm an- Nar period tombs in the UAE and Oman (2500 - 2000 BC) is just one example of this unique and indigenous repertoire of funerary architecture. Circular cairns characteristic of the Hafit archaeological horizon are built tombs where long distance trade between ancient civilizations is evidenced by imported objects from Mesopotamia. Ubaid/Jemdet Nasr period painted pottery and beads were among the items imported. Textual evidence from Mesopotamia as well as copper objects discovered in some of these graves indicate that ancient Magan (the UAE and Oman) was the source of much Mesopotamian copper.

Criterion (iv): Each of the Cultural Sites of Al Ain yielded an outstanding example of a type of building, an architectural or technological ensemble or a landscape: Hili represents the invention of the falaj system during the Iron Age period, signaled a significant leap from the Bronze Age small-scale agriculture based on irrigation from underground wells, to the Iron Age large scale irrigation system via water brought through channels from a distant aquifer. This leap brought a transition from the self-contained small-scale Bronze Age circular tower settlements with a central water well (Hili 1, 8, 10) to larger scale spread-out settlements protected with thick walls and towers at the corners of defensive walls (Hili 14). Villages as well, started to emerge in and around oases such as at Hili 2. The dead were housed in circular multiple burial tombs of different sizes and typologies; but the most spectacular example is the Bronze age Grand Tomb at Hili. The Hafit Assemblage presents a unique set of features, including prehistoric desert encampments, late 4th millennium and 3rd millennium cairns, an Islamic period falaj system, and associated fort and oasis. These features all attest to a cultural model that survived several millennia with much success and relevance to the attributes of the natural environment. The Bidaa Bint Saud Site, with its Bronze Age Hafit-type graves, its Iron Age falaj systems and its Iron Age water management administrative building, all set at the crossroads of ancient trade routes, testify to the major leap in culture and human development made possible by the invention of the falaj system. The Oases present continuously settled agricultural areas with tightly knit farmlands irrigated by a complex network of falaj systems with an embedded architectural ensemble of historic buildings where people lived, collected produces, stacked their surpluses, traded and defended their water and food resources against attackers.

Criterion (v): The oases of Al Ain, with roots in the Bronze and Iron Age cultures of the place, represent this outstanding traditional and continuous human interaction with the arid desert environment, gathering the resources of the land to enable growth and development of a distinctive oasis culture with unique agricultural, architectural and technological achievements and a socio-administrative organization reflective of tribal structures which revolve around the unit and the whole, bound by one destiny, sharing resources, security and identity, both in life and death. It is exactly this settlement pattern, land use, human interaction with the environment and belief in the collective fate in the afterlife, which are reminiscent of millennia of continuous evolution.


The Cultural Sites of Al Ain: Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas cover an area that is of sufficient size and inclusive of elements and attributes expressive of the site's Outstanding Universal Value. The sites form a comprehensive representation of the unique culture of southeast Arabia, encompassing the necropolis graveyards of the Bronze and Iron Age (Hafit Assemblage, Hili Assemblage and Bidaa Bint Saud), settlements associated with these graveyards (Hili Assemblage), an evolving agricultural tradition based on the invention of the falaj system and its complex administrative management system (the aflaj found in Hili Archaeological Park, Bidaa Bint Saud and at the Oases Areas), and evidence of international trade depicted in the items of import from and evidence of export to the main cultures of the Ancient World in that region. The boundaries of the property have been defined in a manner that captures the core physical areas reflecting the site values, in compact and contiguous form; this forms a set of sites connected by their associated attributes and by their proximity within the landscape of Al Ain, but which are enveloped by the modern fabric of the living, contemporary city of Al Ain. The intact archeological sites and oases endure in the urban terrain as a symbol of life in the past and the capacity of man to settle and adapt to the harsh desert environment, and could be subject to threats of encroaching urban development unless provisions for their protection are provided.


In spite of the fast pace of development in the UAE, the Cultural Sites of Al Ain managed to retain a high level of authenticity. From a broad perspective, the city of Al Ain maintains its unique environmental setting consisting of a lush canopy of palm trees and other native desert trees, desert dunes and mountainous ridges, which form the natural setting of the property. The fact that Al Ain maintains strict regulations over building heights in the city preserves views across from and to the components of the serial nomination. The Cultural Sites of Al Ain rate highly for form and design, use and function, traditions and techniques, location and setting, and spirit and feeling, as criteria expressed in the Nara Document on Authenticity. The authenticity of materials and substance is high in terms of material type, but original building materials (earthen masonry, earthen finishes, and palm logs and fronds) are fragile, requiring continuous maintenance and repair. Some restorations have been carried out at a portion of Al Ain Oases historic buildings by the former Department of Antiquities in the 1980's and 90's, which have helped to preserve the form of the structures, but led to the loss of authentic fabric and architectural elements. These restorations are now being readdressed to correct errors in repair, while the buildings not previously restored are being conserved with meticulous methodologies ensuring proper documentation and minimal intervention to the authentic fabric.

Protection and Management requirements

The property's protection is provided by numerous sectorial arrangements reflecting the complexity of the property's definition. The Abu Dhabi Cultural Heritage Management Strategy, developed in 2005 by experts from UNESCO, provides the overarching management framework for the Cultural Sites of Al Ain. It has an implementation plan consisting of 19 action plans, some of which have been completed already, and which inform the Entity Strategic Plan of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH). The ADACH Entity Strategic Plan is a live document reissued on a rolling basis, and its 2010-14 cycle is completed. The UNESCO Strategy is currently being reviewed and updated, to incorporate specific management plans and other projects for specific sites. The various property components fall under two types of ownership: ownership by the government of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi for the museums and forts, private ownership for the most part of the oases and other buildings. For the Emirate-owned components, ownership is exercised by ADACH. The property is protected legally by the ADACH Establishment Law of 2005 and the Oasis protection laws of 2004 and 2005, as well as the Law of Archaeology and Excavations of 1970. Building regulations of Al Ain Municipality's Town Planning Department forbids the construction of new buildings of more than four storeys and a maximum height of 20 metres. The sites within the property and its buffer zones are registered on the inventory managed by ADACH, which also administers the Preliminary Cultural Review, the cultural heritage component of the emirate's Environmental Impact Assessment process. Two draft laws, the emirate-level Law for the Protection, Conservation and Management of Cultural Properties, and the Federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act, are both in the final stage of review by government agencies. These laws will improve the existing protective framework for the sites.


4. Recommends that the State Party give consideration to the following:

a) Clarify the situation regarding public ownership within the property, for the parks and the tombs outside the parks in particular, as well as for the private ownership of buildings and land within the property,

b) Pass the new law for the protection, conservation, management and promotion of cultural heritage and confirm the drafting of a law on the protection of water resources for the traditional aflaj system,

c) Pursue research to clarify the issues of authenticity and integrity of the restorations of the protohistoric tombs and mud brick constructions performed prior to the 2000s,

d) Extend the systematic monitoring to include tourism,

e) Improve the distinction between the archaeological spaces and leisure spaces in the Hili Archaeological Park,

f) Mark out the boundaries of the property sites and buffer zones in open areas.

Themes: Inscriptions on the World Heritage List
States Parties: United Arab Emirates
Year: 2011
Decision Code: 35 COM 8B.24