Hundreds of Emirati artisans and Emirati cultural ambassadors, the long-silenced halls of the Cultural Foundation and the forgotten bedrooms of Al Hosn Palace, the aroma of fresh Arabic coffee and the music of Takht Al Emarat are on standby for the opening of the third Qasr Al Hosn Festival, taking place from February 11 to 21 on the grounds of Abu Dhabi's birthplace.
"You cannot talk about Abu Dhabi without talking about Qasr Al Hosn. This is where it all started,” said Randa Haidar, spokesperson of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority ( TCA), organiser of the festival.
Over 250 years ago, when fresh water was discovered only a few hundred metres from the seashore, a watch tower was built next to the well to protect it and people began to settle for the first time in the new place, named Abu Dhabi.
Over the years, the watchtower was built into a fort, which eventually became a palace and finally a government institution. The story of this building is the story of Abu Dhabi and this is what the festival is all about: the history of the island and its people.
Spread over nearly 17,000 square metres, the festival this year is split into four different sites: the Qasr Al Hosn itself where there will be guided tours of the inner court and the palace's bedrooms and administrative areas; the outdoors where there will be 58 learning experiences across the Oasis, Desert, Marine and Abu Dhabi Island zones; the exhibition hall where a new exhibition of the history of Abu Dhabi will open for the entire year; and the main hall and outdoor amphitheatre of the Cultural Foundation, another landmark building, right next to Qasr Al Hosn, deeply connected with the city's modern heritage.
"The experience of the Cultural Foundation will start here, with the Sentimental Scrap Book,” said Amal Shabbi, building conservationist at the TCA, pointing towards bunches of notebooks hanging from the entrance wall of the Cultural Foundation.
"We will ask people to share their memories of the Cultural Foundation by writing them on those note pads and also by filling a questionnaire, she explained.
Designed in 1972 and completed in the 1980s, the Cultural Foundation had several art exhibition halls, a theatre dubbed as concert hall, a video room hosting the only art cinema in the city, a cafe popular for its tea served in old-fashioned teacups and it was home to the National Library.
The building's gates were closed, though, in 2010, when the entire site went under renovation.
The notes of the Sentimental Scrap Book will help the team of experts, now working on both Qasr Al Hosn and the Cultural Foundation to better understand these buildings not just from architectural point of view, but culturally too, before a final decision is made about their future.
In the main hall of the Cultural Foundation, where once major art exhibitions took place, there will be several workshops for children and families on Emirati traditions — embroidery, weaving, pottery and toy making.
In the outdoors' amphitheatre, there are four different types of performances planned — Memory of the Emirati Song, Cinema Emaratiya screening short movies, a documentary on Abu Dhabi Today, a City between Tradition and Modernity and a sand art show.
"We will be playing for one to two hours every evening,” said Khaled Mohammed, oud player and vocalist of Taht Al Emarat music group. "We compose the music, which is in traditional Emirati style, but the lyrics are poems written be sheikhs,” he told Khaleej Times.
The festival will be open from 4pm till 11pm except the first day, February 11, when opening hours are 8pm to 11pm.
The second day, February 12, is reserved for ladies only. Entry is for Dh10 and free for children under 12 years old. Over 70 daily shuttle buses will be available for the free park-and-ride service.
Source: Khaleej Times