The fort complex at Al Jahili contains within one site many of the different individual elements of traditional mudbrick architecture preserved singly in other parts of Al Ain, including a round watchtower, a square fort with defensive towers at its corners, two large walled enclosures and a mosque outside the walls. Recent work has uncovered the remains of a falaj or covered irrigation channel.
The different elements of the building provide a strong physical and visual link to important local and regional historical events of both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today, its prominent location at the centre of the city and the landmark status of the site is such that Al Jahili Fort has come to symbolize the traditional architecture and cultural heritage of Abu Dhabi.
The oldest parts are the inner fort and the separate multi-tiered round tower. An inscription over the south gate shows that the inner square fort dates back to the 1890s when it was built by Sheikh Zayed the First. This earlier group of buildings had fallen into disrepair by 1955, when Sheikh Shakhbut offered the fort to the Trucial Oman Levies (TOL). This military use continued until the fort was passed over to the Union Defence Force in 1971. From 1986-89 a restoration of the fort included the creation of a single large courtyard now used for classical music concerts and other public events. The present monumental entrance flanked by large towers was added during the 1986-89 restoration. All the new parts of the building added during the 1980s were built using the same traditional combination of mudbrick walls with palm log roofs.
Conservation and rehabilitation works carried out by the Department of Culture and Tourism in 2007 preserved the fabric and value of this historic building, whilst transforming the most recent parts of the building into an active visitor destination with an information centre and permanent and temporary exhibition spaces. The conservation and development process was informed throughout by archaeological investigations and documentation that allowed the preservation and interpretation of the various parts of the building.
The concept behind this project was to combine the traditional materials and techniques of earthen building with innovative modern technology to allow for additional cooling inside the rooms around the arcaded gallery. The technology used in the building supplements the thermal qualities of the existing earth walls to provide a comfortable environment for modern year-round use. This has been achieved by the use of a network of chilled water pipes laid beneath the mud plaster over almost every vertical and horizontal surface, cooling the building when the summer temperature in Al Ain can reach to 50°C.
The project has also sought to raise the profile and underline the relevance of earthen buildings to the architectural heritage of the UAE, whilst emphasising the green and recyclable qualities of the materials traditionally used in the buildings of Al Ain, principally earth and the various by-products of the palm tree. The project has been awarded the prestigious Terra Award at terra Lyon 2016, the 12th World Congress on Earthen Architectures. Subsequent conservation work in 2013 has included a construction of the north gate of the nineteenth century enclosure based on evidence from archaeology and historic photographs.
The north wing of the courtyard is devoted to a permanent exhibition of black and white photographs by the traveller Wilfred Thesiger and entitled ‘Bin London and Freedom of the Desert’. The west wing is used as the temporary exhibitions centre, opening on to the court, while the south wing contains an information centre for visitors to the fort and to Al Ain, as well as a bookshop and majlis.
A combination of traditional materials and new technologies has produced a building that is environmentally and historically in harmony with its surroundings. Al Jahili Fort, with its exhibition spaces and information centre is the first project of its kind to combine these traditional and new technologies within the context of a large historic mudbrick structure, and has become a model for the adaptive reuse of traditional buildings to the modern needs of the UAE and the region.
Open daily except Mondays
From 9:00am to 5:00pm
Friday: 3:00pm to 5:00pm
For more information on Al Jahili Fort, please contact us on
Telephone: +971 3 711 8311
Or email Huda Al Musaabi, Marketing and Communications Officer of Al Jahili Fort on: Huda.firstname.lastname@example.org
Location Al Mutawaa area, near Al Jahili Park