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Visit the cultural birthplace of Abu Dhabi in the UAE – Qasr Al Hosn

Qasr Al Hosn, the cultural birthplace of Abu Dhabi, is the oldest stone building in the city of Abu Dhabi. Qasr Al Hosn was built in 1760. It was used as the watchtower for defending the only freshwater well on Abu Dhabi island. Although Qasr Al Hosn is widely known as the white fort, it wasn’t white when it was built. It was painted white during its 1976-1983 renovations. The tower was later enlarged into a small fort in 1793 Shakhbut bin Dhiyab Al Nahyan and became the permanent residence of the ruling Sheikh. The tower got its present shape after the major extension in the late 1930s.

Qasr Al Hosn is the oldest and most significant building in Abu Dhabi, holding the city’s first permanent structure.The building comprises of two major iconic buildings: the Inner Fort (originally constructed in 1795) and the Outer Palace (1939-45).

Currently, the Qasr al-Hosn houses a museum displaying the history of Abu Dhabi and Arabian Gulf areas through pictures, artifacts, weapons, and other cultural stuff. The fort is considered as a gemstone by the archaeological & historical researchers. It is indeed an iconic heritage attraction of cultural and historical significance.

Being the pride of Abu Dhabi, the fort has been standing for more than 2 and a half centuries.

The Qasr al-Hosn is currently the subject of extensive historical, archaeological, and architectural research. Explore the historical timeline view of Qasr Al Hosn fort

Orgin of Abu-Dhabi

1761 – 1795

The Origin of Abu Dhabi

The Islands were rich in natural resources and surrounding shallow waters. To protect these shallow pools of fresh water known as scrapes the Sheikh of the Bani Yas tribe, Dhiyab Bin Isa built a watchtower on coral and sea stone.

A Tower Becomes a Fortress

1795 – 1850s Transformation into A Fort Sheikh Shakhbut Bin Dhiyab expanded the tower to a fort by building more towers. The fort protected nearby shipping routes. Later he developed fort as his seat of government, military headquarters, and as his family home.

1855 – 1909

A Community Takes Shape

In 1855, Sheikh Zayed Bin Khalifa, also known as Zayed the Great, united the tribes of the region. Under his rule, the region improved trade and diplomatic relations with foreign countries.

Abu Dhabi continued its immense growth under the rule of Qasr Al Hosn. Fishing remained a valuable industry for the city and by the late 1800s, the city commanded over pearling boats – the largest number in the Gulf.

The Fort Expands

1928 – 1966

On1939 that Qasr Al Hosn once again became the site of major economic change after Sheikh Shakhbut Bin Sultan Al Nahyan negotiated the country’s first oil concessions with Great Britain.

Using a portion of the funds from the oil contract with Great Britain, Sheikh Shakhbut Bin Sultan Al Nahyan built an iconic palace that enclosed the founding walls of the fort and tripling the size of the site. This palace instantly became a symbol of Abu Dhabi’s rising economy and growing prosperity.

Conserving a National Monument

1990 – Present Day Over the last decade, the covering of the walls of fort accumulated corrosive materials on the surface of the original coral stone bricks. Following this discovery, an extensive conservation project was put into action to renovate the fort’s walls.

Renovation done with the assistance of latest technology allowing for the structure to ‘breathe’ and once again revealing the original foundation.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces opened the historical cultural site of Qasr Al Hosn after the renovation process. We are proud to partner with the Qasr al-Hosn development team for the renovation process. Qasr al-Hosn teaches the rich culture of UAE to the world.

The first glimpse of the newly renovated Qasr Al Hosn, which tells the story of Abu Dhabi

After a decade of construction and renovation, Abu Dhabi's oldest heritage site will open to the public on December 7. The National was given an extensive tour.

Qasr Al Hosn is about to enter the next phase of its extraordinary history. On Friday December 7, after a decade of meticulous conservation and renovation, Abu Dhabi’s oldest heritage site, parts of which date back to the 1760s, will re-open as a museum alongside a re-constructed National Consultative Council building and Cultural Foundation.

Here, then, in the heart of this ever-changing city, is a physical timeline of the story of Abu Dhabi, a tranquil oasis bathed in Emirati culture.

Qasr Al Hosn is the ancestral home of the Al Nahyan and the oldest building on Abu Dhabi Island.

Qasr Al Hosn is made up of an Inner Fort – or 'Hosn' – that was built with coral and sea stone by Sheikh Shakhbut bin Dhiyab in 1795 and an Outer Palace – or 'Qasr' – added by Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1939.

For decades, Qasr Al Hosn housed the ruling family but by the 1960s, and after further renovations, this beautiful collection of understated buildings became home to the National Centre for Documentation and Research. It remained a resilient symbol of Abu Dhabi’s history, even as the city we know today quickly grew up around it.

The Cultural Foundation, meanwhile, was founded by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1981 to encourage creative and intellectual activity in Abu Dhabi. There was a National Library, a performing arts wing and exhibition spaces. “[Many of us] had our first piano or art lessons in that building,” says Salama Al Shamsi, newly appointed director of Qasr Al Hosn. Now it has been transformed with a renovated Visual Arts Centre, opening on December 7, and a theatre and Children’s Library to open next year.

Before Qasr Al Hosn’s opening, The National was given an extensive tour of the site, as the finishing touches were being made. It is a 400m x 400m development, split diagonally. Qasr Al Hosn, sitting on sand, its textured white walls with fragments of sea shells sparkling in the sunshine, is on one side. The cavernous Cultural Foundation, modern and geometric in form, is on the other – traditional techniques in conversation with modern architecture.

Between the buildings is a large water feature, surrounded by shaded enclosures, places to sit, and a mangrove garden. Palm trees sway sedately. The idea is to allow visitors to Abu Dhabi to cross the line between traditional and modern. And it’s certainly impressive to stand by the Cultural Foundation and peer back in time, imagining a way of life unrecognisable in Abu Dhabi today.

The oldest structure in Qasr Al Hosn is the watchtower, built in 1760-61 by Sheikh Dhiyab bin Isa, leader of the Bani Yas tribe. Layers of modern-day render and gypsum have been peeled away to reveal the original stonework.

In one stunning spot, you can trace Qasr Al Hosn’s architectural history from the 1700s right through to the present day. The oldest element of the building, the watchtower; a 1940s Outer Palace wall; the 1980s reinstatement of the inner fort; and finally, a modern skyscraper peeking into your eye-line reveal 250 years of progress and development in a single glance.

Within Qasr Al Hosn, every effort has been made to preserve the original features. The mangrove poles used in the 1940s in the corridors of the south wing, for example, were embedded within concrete of the 1980s era and couldn't be removed. To ensure they remained part of Qasr Al Hosn, a series of tubes were attached to the ends of the mangrove poles and preservatives were drip-fed into the wood.

It might have been easier to simply replace these poles but this 10-year project has been about preservation, rather than destruction. This attention to detail pays off and it allows us to understand how previous generations lived and worked.

One of the first rooms that visitors see within the Outer Palace demonstrates how Emirati architecture – those slab-like stone-walls and the wooden lintels wrapped in date palm rope – evolved to withstand the hostile summer conditions.

And so, as you move through the cloisters into each room, you can feel the cooling effect of the substantial walls. They act as a thermal store during the day by soaking up the sun's rays and then, as temperatures drop at night, radiating that same heat back into living spaces. Ghati structures – wind-catchers embedded within the architecture – also help to circulate air by funnelling any breeze from the courtyard into the building's interior.

The wonderful thing about Qasr Al Hosn is that it never feels like a museum. Yes, there will be displays of artefacts here, as well as re-enactments of daily rituals, but this is an altogether more immersive experience. To spend time within these whitewashed walls is to step back in history, to experience a living, breathing building from another era. Qasr Al Hosn is not about air-conditioned rooms and mocked-up facades. It is about the resuscitation of a place and way of life that deserves to be celebrated.

Constructed over 250 years ago, Qasr Al Hosn had begun to show its age. The walls were crumbling and the interiors were tired. It has now had the facelift it so richly deserves. Abu Dhabi’s past is secured and has become a central part of its future.

Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation


Founded in 1981, visitors can experience the UAE’s first cultural centre dedicated to creation and appreciation Emirati arts and literature.

A visionary who looked at a changing world through eyes that seemed to pierce the future, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan sought to engage the United Arab Emirates in cross-cultural dialogue with the wider international community from the outset, firmly establishing the UAE as a crossroads for various cultures – in the process revealing the nation’s welcoming openness to a culture of tolerance and hospitality.

Committed to this vision to create an environment conducive to cultivating and elevating the mind which would also reach out to the world, leadership passed a law the same year to set up a cultural body whose aim was to nurture heritage and the arts in the fast developing nation.


With keen insight, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan envisioned a modern cultural institution that would serve as a vital building block for the fledgling state’s society. He foresaw a place from which a cultural awakening would spring forth, starting at the nation’s new capital, Abu Dhabi, eventually impacting the UAE as a whole – and finally, the international community. Over time, the concept grew broader to encompass the protection and promotion of the nation’s valued traditional culture and heritage for future generations.

From the outset, this cultural body was to breathe new life into the nation’s artistic gifts, spurring intellectual growth. Radiating outwards from Abu Dhabi to the whole country and to the rest of the world, this cultural renaissance would help usher in an era of modernity. To this end, an international competition was launched in 1973 to find an architectural design to match Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan’s desire for a haven from which art and cultural initiatives would begin to flourish - a national landmark that, while staying true to Arab-Islamic style, would exude the aspirations for modernity and progress.

The winning design came from The Architects’ Collaborative (TAC), originally founded by Walter Gropius (the world famous architect of Bauhaus fame). The design proposed a three-winged building around a central courtyard. The original detailed designs for the building project were submitted by an international team, and were further perfected by a young Iraqi architect, Hisham Al Ashkouri, who was invited by Louis McMillen, one of TAC’s principals, to lead the project. A product of Baghdad University, Al Ashkouri had been taught by a number of leading architects including Mohamed Makiya, Hisham Munir – and had been influenced by legendary architects such as Louis Kahn, Marcel Breuer, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius. Al Ashkouri was instrumental in the successful completion of the design by 1975.

At the time of its opening in 1981, the Cultural Foundation provided the first National Library, along with a performance auditorium and an exhibition centre. The formal establishment of the Cultural Foundation saw the launch of a series of ground-breaking programmes celebrating local and regional culture, showcasing a variety of art forms and encouraging cross-cultural exchanges on many new fronts.

From that time on, the Cultural Foundation has gained regional and international acclaim as a world-acclaimed venue for culture and the arts. The building itself has gained prominence as a modern heritage landmark, registered as one of Abu Dhabi’s cherished cultural heritage resources.

From its inception to the time of its renovation and beyond, the Cultural Foundation has remained true to the original aspirations of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, fulfilling one of his ambitious and far-reaching visions for the UAE and its people - bestowing the timeless, inestimable endowment of cultural heritage and art

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