The Emirate of Fujairah is an Arabian desert state that has largely remained untouched by the hordes of tourists who visit nearby Dubai and Oman every year. From medieval sand-covered forts to ancient marketplaces, Fujairah is a history and culture buff’s ideal getaway.
Fujairah Fort is undoubtedly one of Fujairah’s architectural treasures and can be seen from most central locations in the Emirate. The fort is located on the top of one of the tallest hills in the Gulf, overlooking the whole Emirate, some 20 metres above sea level. The design of the fort is unique in the UAE. Three square towers and a rounded tower are linked by a wall, which creates a huge central hall at the centre. The fort was originally built in 1670, making it the oldest in the UAE, and has survived Wahhabist occupation, bombardment by the British Royal Navy, and has played a pivotal role in the life of Fujairah, serving as a military base, a royal palace, a prison and execution chamber, and more recently a wedding venue.
The fort is open every day until 5pm and entry is free.
Al-Bidya Mosque is the oldest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. The mud and brick mosque that blends into Fujairah’s mountainous backdrop has served the area since 1446, but little is known about its origins. The building hasn’t changed much since it first opened. The four rounded multi-tier domes on the roof could easily be mistaken for hills among the mountains, and the minbar where the Imam gives sermon shows signs of centuries of shuffling feet. Al-Bidya Mosque is a welcome contrast to the familiar glass skyscrapers that dominate the Gulf.
The mosque is open to the public after 12pm every day, except for Thursday and Friday when locals can be seen queueing to pray.
The best diving destination you never thought to visit Dive in
As with most grand fortresses in Fujairah, Al-Hail Castle was once home to the ruling family, but it is the only building designated a castle in the Arabian Gulf. Al-Hail is set deep in the Hajar Mountain range and was built in 1830. A square wind tower, which is the only intact part of the castle still standing, offers uninterrupted views across endless date palm plantations and jagged hills and cliffs. Few people take the time to find Al-Hail Castle, so it is quite possible to have the place to yourself during a visit.
Entry to the castle is free, but the only way to get through the heavy wooden doors is to ask the caretaker for the key.
No visit to Fujairah would be complete without visiting one of the world’s oldest marketplaces that has traded continuously for hundreds of years. The village of Masafi has been located on the only trade route between the coast and the east of the UAE since tribes first located to the region. The Friday market, which is actually open all week, consists of permanent wooden and pop-up canvas stalls that sell all manner of traditional Emirati toys, carpets, dates, jewellery and trinkets. The road to Masafi is dominated by speed bumps, which entrepreneurial locals use to find captive audiences to sell their fruits and vegetables. Masafi is also the site of the UAE’s only mineral water bottling plant, Masafi water.
Bithnah Fort is close to Masafi village and is another former royal fortress that has illustrious links. The fort was built from locally-sourced stone, mud and palm wood by local rulers to defend against Wahhabi invasion from Arabia in the late 18th century. Inside, the stone walls are layered in a gold colour, and the circular watchtower is a photographers’ dream. Until just a few years ago, the fort was home to an unassuming local man named Saed Ali Saed Al Yamahi whose personal belongings are still present in some rooms.
Bithnah Fort is one of the most photogenic sites in the UAE and is open 7 days a week.
Fujairah is a destination full of surprises. Some of its best secrets are those from the past. These ancient forts and historical attractions will make your next trip to UAE one of endless learning and glimpses back through time.