Saturday, February 23, 2013
A village that always sleeps - Jazirat al Hamra
One of my long time photography projects in the UAE, has been documenting the decay of the abandoned village, Jazirat al Hamra North of Dubai. Earlier this month, I launched on my yearly trek to Al Hamra. Over the last three years these shoots have grown into a significant body of work, which can be found in its own dedicated gallery; " A village that never sleeps".
"Deserted about forty years ago, Jazirat Al Hamra (arabic for Red island) is one of the only complete villages of its kind, still standing in the Gulf Region, which gives a glimpse of what life was like before the discovery of oil.
Situated only a short distance off the main highway running between Ras Al Khaimah city and the Al Hamra development and only a few kilometers from the Al Hamra Mall, the village is not readily spotted from the road. But once pointed in the right direction, one quickly arrives at its outer edge, where an old fort and tower watch in eerie silence over empty streets and abandoned buildings, some at least a century old.
Mosques, shops, and houses – with courtyards overrun by vegetation and quaint features like star windows, wind-towers, and carved doors – all lie in varying states of decay and disrepair. Beyond the tower, the main village paths meander through the town towards the sea and eventually converge in a town square of sorts, where the souk – a handful of stores and open-front shop buildings – was located.
Some of the most interesting buildings in the town can be found here, including a school, several small mosques, complete with a tiny, crudely-shaped minaret tower and a large house with wind-catchers, where a well-to-do merchant lived. Once home to a thriving pearling and fishing community, the town’s proximity and relationship to the sea is evident everywhere, on the sandy pathways with shells and coral strewn all about, as well as the very buildings themselves, which were made from coral and bricks of sand and shell. Traditionally, pearling was a major source of income for Ras Al Khaimah’s coastal towns, and Jazirat al Hamra’s location, believed to have been inhabited since at least the 16th century, was abandoned only in the latter half of the 20th century, after the decline of the pearl trade.
Varying accounts exist as to why the village was deserted. Some tell of a dispute between the tribe residing there and local authorities, which resulted in the tribe appealing to Sheikh Zayed and moving to Abu Dhabi after the formation of the UAE; while others claim that the town was gradually deserted, with most of its inhabitants moving away simply because they were attracted by the job opportunities, lifestyle and conveniences found in larger cities and modern housing communities. Its inhabitants may be gone, but Jazirat Al Hamra is not forgotten.
Occasionally former residents still living in the area can be found gathering in the souk area with old friends and companions and are often happy to point out their former homes, reminisce, and share fond memories of the place they once called home as well as their fears for its future. Not an official tourist site, the town occupies an enviable portion of waterfront property and is threatened by the modern developments encroaching on it from all sides. For this reason, many of the families who still own property in the town are reluctant to sell, and some wish that the town’s value as an important historical / heritage site would be officially recognised, before it disappears forever. Over the last 18 months, part of the village has been cleaned up and is occasionally used as a heritage site.
Most of the major paths in the village are wide enough for cars, but four wheel drive vehicles are recommended, as portions of the area are covered with soft sand.
The site is quite large, with diverse types of architecture from different decades, and photography and history buffs alike could easily find themselves taking several hours to explore it all. But those visiting close to sunset are warned to beware – It is said that the Djinn, who dwell there now, emerge at night fall"...
Wanting to document the past, at some stage this body of work will probably end up in a self-published book...