RAK completes restoration work on historic watchtower

Restoration of Al Jazirah Al Hamra watchtower part of emirate’s ongoing efforts to preserve and restore its history

Ras Al Khaimah’s Department of Antiquities and Museums has completed major restoration work on one of the emirate’s historic watchtowers, it has been announced.

Located outside Al Jazirah Al Hamra, an ancient coastal village known for its fishing, pearl diving and boat building, the watchtower is believed to be about 100 years old and was a crucial part of the area’s defence system.

The tower was constructed using traditional materials, such as coral and beach stone, mangrove beams and palm frond, a WAM report said. Situated on sand dunes back on the mainland, the tower guarded Al Jazirah Al Hamra’s water wells and also protected the village, once on an island, from attack by land.

The tower’s role as a defensive fortification became redundant by the 1950s, with the beginning of modern development in the UAE, while Al Jazirah Al Hamra itself was connected to the mainland by the 1970s through land reclamation work.

Over time, parts of the tower’s roof has collapsed, and its stonework has fallen into disrepair. Therefore, the Department of Antiquities and Museums first created a detailed record of its architectural features and decided on the repairs that needed to be carried out.

Work on the restoration project began in April, with workers injecting a mortar made of traditional materials, such as lime, into the walls to stabilise the building.

“The traditional technique of wall-building leaves voids and gaps in the structure. The tower was built using the same technique, which is one of the reasons for its partial collapse,” said Ahmed Hilal, director of Archaeology at the Department.

“No chemicals or modern materials were used in the repairs to reflect the original process and maintain the tower’s historical integrity,” said Hilal. “We have also tried to avoid material containing salt, which is a major problem in many structures because it can cause corrosion.”

The restoration work took about four weeks, with workers also rebuilding its roof, repairing its main door and rejuvenating some of its plasterwork.

“The 11.9-metre high tower is a classic example of a traditional defensive building,” said Hilal. “The restoration forms part of our mandate to safeguard Ras Al Khaimah’s priceless heritage and secure it for future generations.”

He added that the Department of Antiquities and Museums is working on plans to open the tower to the public, to display a facet of the Emirate’s rich history to a wider audience.

The village of Al Jazirah Al Hamra, meanwhile, has been the subject of a separate major restoration effort by the Department over the past few years, with a number of its key buildings having been restored.

The conservation efforts combined form part of a plan to document all traditional buildings in Ras Al Khaimah. More than 1,600 structures have been recorded and mapped as part of the Department’s plan so far, 75 of which are fortified towers. A number of these towers are similar defensive fortifications to the Al Jazirah Al Hamra tower, while others are part of larger forts or civilian buildings.

Once the plan is complete, a digital database will be created by the Department showcasing all Ras Al Khaimah’s traditional buildings, Hilal concluded.

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