Al Ain Cultural Sites (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oasis Regions) - World Cultural Heritage in United Arab Emirates

The Cultural Sites of Al Ain (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oasis Areas) constitute a heritage that testifies to the human occupation of a desert region since the New Stone Age with traces of many prehistoric cultures. Notable remains of the property include circular rock tombs (c. 2500 BC), wells and a variety of brick constructions: residential buildings, towers, palaces and administrative buildings. Also, Hili has one of the oldest examples of a sophisticated aflaj irrigation system dating back to the Iron Age. The property provides important evidence of the transition of cultures in the region from hunting and gathering to sedentary settlement.

Year of accreditation: 2011
Criteria: (iii)(iv)(v)
Area: 4,945.45 ha
Buffer zone: 7,605.46 ha

Outstanding Overall Value

The suite of Cultural Sites of Al Ain, with its various component parts and the regional context in which it is located, provides evidence of ancient human occupation in a desert area. Occupied continuously since Neolithic times, the area has remains of many prehistoric cultures, including the Bronze and Iron Ages. Al Ain sits at the intersection of ancient land routes between Oman, the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia. Highly diverse in nature, the tangible elements of the property include the remains of circular rock tombs and settlements dating from the Hafit and Hili periods, wells and a partially underground aflaj irrigation system. , oases and mud brick structures are used for a variety of defensive, domestic and economic purposes. aim.

Criterion (iii): The cultural sites of Al Ain provide exceptional testimony to the development of successive prehistoric cultures in a desert region, from the Neolithic to prehistoric ironwork. They establish the existence of a sustainable human development, bear witness to the transition from hunting and nomadic societies to human occupation of the oasis, and to the sustainability of the culture, this to this day.

Criterion (iv): The tombs and architectural ruins of the Hafit, Hili and Umm an-Nar cultures provide an exceptional illustration of human development during the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in the Arabian Peninsula. The aflaj system, introduced as early as the 1st millennium BC, bears witness to the management of water in desert regions.

Criterion (v): The ruins and the landscape of the oases of Al Ain seem to bear witness, over a very long historical period, to the possibility for the civilizations of the north-eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, in particular in the prehistoric period , to develop a strong and positive relationship with the desert environment. They know how to set up the sustainable exploitation of water resources to create a green and fertile environment.

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Composed of 17 satisfactorily defined elements, the cultural sites of Al Ain constitute a continuum with sufficient integrity to embody the exceptional values ​​of prehistoric and primitive cultures linked to the evolution of the oasis landscape. The nominated sites cover sufficiently large areas and include a wide variety of archaeological sites, which are generally well preserved and adequately protected. However, integrity will be underpinned by a systematic inventory and a deeper knowledge of the nominated groups and their environment. The history of the oases from prehistory to the 19th century is still very fragmentary and needs to be studied scientifically. The environment close to the population forms the landscape associated with the existing deserts, mountains and oases, and this also applies to their urban scale, but in some cases the urban context has outdated elements nearby, due to contemporary developments (amusement parks, modern buildings, road infrastructure and hotels, etc.). The integrity of the environment must be carefully monitored to ensure that these growths do not proliferate and harm their environment.


Al Ain’s prehistoric sites, particularly the Hafit and Hili populations, and associated mobile artefacts, have a high degree of authenticity. Several recently excavated archaeological sites reveal quite authentic construction remains. However, since their discovery in the second half of the 20th century, there has been a tendency to reconstruct certain circular tombs in an attempt to make them symbolic, which necessarily limits their accuracy to their reality. The presence of Iron Age aflaj systems has been confirmed, including the case of Hili 15 falaj, which shows all units of the system intact (cut and cover, shari’a and open channels) and where it there are no interventions other than sandbag fencing to protect and drain stormwater. The Aflaj of Al Ain do not all date back to the Iron Age, but include new additions to the system in later centuries. Recent studies have filled in some gaps in the continuity of the system. Later attempts at more systematic documentation will help assess their authenticity as a system that forms the basis of today’s oases.

Restoration work on mud-brick buildings and structures in the oases, which took place from the 1980s, was mainly reconstruction with a priority on the preservation of the physical structure. This trend has moderated in recent years, in order to better respect authenticity (in terms of form, structure and materials), the consideration of authenticity being at the heart of conservation activities. The conditions of authenticity of the oases in terms of use seem to be met for the most part, taking into account the efforts of the national and local authorities as well as the breeders. Together they aim to ensure the continued development of the oases. However, threats to their authenticity due to the changing economic impact on the maintenance of agricultural activities,

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Protection and management requirements

The property has been legally protected by the Abu Dhabi Agency for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) Act 2005 and the Oasis Protection Acts 2004 and 2005, as well as the Archeology and excavations of 1970. Building regulations of the city of Al Ain The Department of Urban Planning prohibits the construction of new buildings with four floors and a maximum height of 20 meters. The sites within the property and its buffer zone are recorded in a repository managed by ADACH, which also administers the Preliminary Cultural Assessment, the cultural heritage component of its environmental impact assessment process. environment. Two bills, the Law on the Protection, Conservation and Management of Cultural Properties of the Emirate and the Federal Law on the Protection of Archaeological Resources, are both in the final stages of review by government agencies. These laws will improve the existing protection framework for websites.

The asset protection offered by many industry agreements reflects the complexity of defining assets. The Abu Dhabi Cultural Heritage Management Strategy provides the overall management framework for Al Ain’s cultural sites. It has an implementation plan made up of 19 action plans, some of which have been supplemented and communicated to the ADACH entity’s strategic plan. The ADACH Entity Strategic Plan is a live document reissued on a rolling basis and its 2010-14 cycle completed. The Heritage Management Strategy is currently being reviewed and updated to incorporate specific management plans and other projects for specific sites. ADACH merged with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority in February 2012 to create the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (ADTCA).

With regard to the text of the site text ‘Al Ain’s Cultural Site’ (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oasis Area), United Arab Emirates, It should be noted that, in accordance with the United Nations Directive of May 15, 1999 (ref. ST/CS/SER.A/29/Rev.1) the terms ‘Persian Gulf’, ‘Gulf’ and ‘Shatt-al’-Arab’ must be referenced and used in all documents, publications and declarations emanating from of the Secretariat is the standard geographical designation for the waters between the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic Republic of Iran. .

Map of Al Ain cultural sites (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oasis areas)

Videos of Al Ain cultural sites (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oasis areas)