Sharjar, which extends from Dubai as an extension of the city, is indeed a separate Emirate. It is the third largest Emirate and is and home to 800,000 people.
This is the only totally dry of the Emirates (no liquor stores nor alcohol in even tourist hotels). It is particularly rich in the arts and has earned UNESCO classification as the Arab Capital for Culture. The historic downtown area, which is being renovated into the Emirate’s Heritage and Arts center, is literally overflowing with museums (17 and counting) and a rapidly growing number of galleries.
Our all too brief day trip to Sharjar by a short bus ride focused exclusively on this heritage area. A walk through the area and around the Corniche (beach) demonstrated the Emirate’s commitment to renovating its roughly 50-year old historic area. The city wall was being reconstructed and virtually every historic building either has been renovated, or is currently in some state of renovation.
After a perfunctory spin through one of the most commercial of these renovations—the atmospheric, yet very touristy Souq Al Alsah, we focused our sightseeing almost exclusively on museums and, unsuccessfully, on galleries (all of which we found to be closed during our 10:00 to 2:00 visit).
The two museums that we did visit, however, were very open, and very worthwhile:
- Sharjah Heritage Museum is a treasure situated in the middle of the city’s cultural district. Its succession of five galleries provides a great overview of the region’s 7,500-year history and culture by explaining in turn desert life, religious practices, social rituals and traditional medicine. It briefly laid out the region’s seafaring history with descriptions of its boat building, fishing and pearl diving economy; explained the history and role of clothes in both societal and religious terms; explained and briefly profiled the occupations open both to men, and also to women (midwifery, weaving and commerce); and examined the skills that were honed as a means of surviving and thriving in their challenging environment (such as tracking, navigation, astronomy and meteorology). Overall, a fascinating and wonderfully curated museum.
- Sharjah Art Museum is based in a sprawling, sparklingly renovated building located in the center of the city’s emerging arts district. We spend virtually our entire time in the museum focused on two temporary exhibits: One on the evolution of printmaking on the Indian subcontinent after the departure of the British raj; the second a retrospective on the life’s work of Noor Ali Rashid, one of the region’s first, and most influential photojournalist. This second exhibit was fascinating. Although it certainly provided a number of historic photos taken under his appointment as the Royal Photographer who documented the creation and early years of the UAE, it also provided many, many examples of more personal works that examined the architecture, the culture and the human comedies and dramas of the region. Moreover, as photographer-in-chief through the period in which the Gulf States were transformed from poor economic backwaters (whose economies were particularly devastated by the Japanese development of cultured pearls) into ultra-wealthy petro states, he was also uniquely situated to chronicle the region’s transition to modernity. This transformation is graphically chronicled in photos that highlight the odd coexistence of and transitions from falcon to jet-based aviation, camel to automotive transportation and palm frond and wattle construction techniques to the tallest, most architecturally sophisticated skyscrapers in the world.
Sadaf Persian Restaurant
But as much as we wanted to continue exploring more of the city’s museums and sights, our stomach’s called. And Sharjah did not disappoint. Based on a recommendation of the Art Museum staff, we chose to eat at Sadaf, a Persian restaurant that apparently caters to the city’s businessmen. It was a delicious feast consisting of hummus, creamy lentil soup, a salad of fresh basil, cucumber and goat cheese, stuffed grape leaves and a mixed grill of minced spiced lamb, chicken and lamb tokka (kebobs), Birayani rice. A wonderful way to brace ourselves for the half-hour bus back to Dubai.