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Heart of Sharjah

Date of Submission: 06/02/2014
Criteria: (v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the United Arab Emirates to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Emirate of Sharjah
Ref.: 5852
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

The Heart of Sharjah is located in the old part of the Emirate of Sharjah in the northern United Arab Emirates. According to historical sources, this location contributed to the development of trade. Al Edrissy (an 11th century geographer) stated that there was a port in the existing location of Sharjah: "the road from Julfar to Bahrain penetrated the width of the sea of Qatar to the Sabkha Port", which was possible to have been the Port of Sharjah.

Sharjah contains two components that have often characterized the existence of settlements in the Arabian Gulf. First, it is located in protected entrance of the sea, locally called “Al Khor”. Second, fresh water exists at relatively shallow depth.

According to historical sources in 1756 AD, "there are three locations on the coast between Al Katif (Qutif in Saudi Arabia) and Sir (Ras Al Khaima), which are Al Ajir, Qatar and Sharjah. These locations contained few residences from which the Basra dates and rice were brought to the Arabs of the desert by the pearl divers."

From time of the early trading with the east to the settlement of the mighty Qawassim sea-faring family and into the first half of the 19th century, Sharjah was the most important port on the lower Arabian Gulf.

Sharjah was completely devastated by the British in 1820 AD, but it revived more rapidly than other ports in the Emirates area. It was then an important air-station connecting the West with India.

It should also be pointed out that the "Heart of Sharjah" contains large and small architectural buildings and religious structures like mosques and markets that bear witness to city development and evolution though time.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The historical area in the Heart of Sharjah is an exceptional example of urban development of historical cities in the Arabian Gulf. This area covers three key periods; namely, the booming period of the pearls trade that extended from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, contributing to cultural diversity of the historical city; in the nineteenth century, it was one of the major ports of the Arabian Gulf that extended between Musandam to Bahrain). During the period the British Empire it was an air-station comprising a hub that connects the west with India.

Due to its location on the trade route, Sharjah was rich with its architectural diversity evident in the historic setting, buildings functions and architectural expressions collectively comprising the built environment on the waterfront. The key components of these buildings comprised of wind towers locally known as “Barajeel”, which is a unique ventilation system in the region that was known in this area. The Heart of Sharjah is particularly known for the most unique and scarce geometric forms and specific types of these towers, such as the cylindrical form.

Thus, the urban settlement represents a stage in city planning derived from common elements known in Islamic cities characterized by the presence of court-yard houses and wind-towers responding to environmental needs. In addition, there are other landmarks characteristic of Islamic cities in this historical area, such as the fortress, mosques, markets, and narrow streets. In addition, protection or defense components can also be seen in the walls of ancient Sharjah.

Through these elements that disappeared from many other cities in the Arabian Gulf of the nineteenth and twentieth century, the unique and universal value of this historic environment becomes apparent.

The built environment and traditional activities held regularly in Historic Sharjah remain greatly significant to the people of the UAE and the region. People and communities of Sharjah and UAE have remained closely associated with this historic environment with many intangible values they have kept in their daily lives. This close bonding between the people of Sharjah and the sea has been apparent in terms of planning and built fabric.

Criterion (v): The Heart of Sharjah is a prominent model of traditional human settlement in the United Arab Emirates and the Arabian Gulf where historical components of the city are still visible. It is a living outstanding example of development of urban settlements in coastal areas of the United Arab Emirates and the Arabian Gulf over the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries that were under threat due major urban changes, albeit leaving foot-print, particularly during the oil boom.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

- The Sharjah Government made great efforts for the safeguard of historic buildings in the Heart of Sharjah; the protection of these buildings has been the responsibility of the Heritage Directorate in the Culture and Information Department.

- The Sharjah Government has continued to ensure stopping threats stemming from destruction of the urban fabric in the Heart of Sharjah, in the course of urban development projects in the past three decades.

- The area has always been under maintenance and restoration, with great efforts in applying conservation methods that follow international standards. Therefore the architectural elements are well kept.

- The Heart of Sharjah was fully documented, and there is a set of studies covering the evolution of the historical area in the Emirate of Sharjah.

- An annual event that highlights the historical importance of the area titled "The heritage days of Sharjah" has helped in keeping a variety of traditional activities in this heritage place.

- In addition, the Emirate of Sharjah has a strong law of Antiquities and Heritage that provides full protection for the area, in addition to its designation as historic zone at the local level.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Heart of Sharjah is similar in its details to some of the Arab Gulf cities in the western side of the Gulf. Al Zubara in Qatar has some resemblance as settlement in terms of the buildings and their use. Such buildings date back to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, Al Zubara area has been abandoned and not integrated as Sharjah in the life of citizens of the city.

The stucco decoration in Heritage Buildings, collectively contributing to the general image of the city, are similar to those of individual buildings that belong to the same period in the Gulf States, and those in the Umayyad Qasr Al Haraneh in Jordan. Nevertheless the decoration patterns of in Sharjah were adapted most of the houses with local influences.

The commercial function of Heart of Sharjah and its reliance on trade and trade of pearls in the nineteenth century is similar to the function of the area of Al Muharrag city in the Kingdom of Bahrain. However, the Heart of Sharjah remains the core zone and evident landmark of new Sharjah.

Khor Al- Sharjah is an important element in the settlement of the Heart of Sharjah; while the urban area around the Khor is similar to the role of other Khors at Dubai, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain in the urban settlements, the settlement of Sharjah is considered older. The urban setting continues to keep both the structural and functional integrity of the settlement and its strong relation to the Khor activities.