The modern state of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may have been founded as recently as 1971, when its seven emirates were unified, but evidence from excavations in the city of Al Ain reveals a history dating back many millennia.
An inland city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, Al Ain sits on the border with Oman, near the northern fringes of the Rub’ al Khali – the ‘Empty Quarter’. The Arabic name Al Ain translates as ‘The Spring’ – a reference to the abundant water that enabled the city to take root and thrive in this arid region, as a succession of civilisations tapped into this vital natural resource. Dubbed the ‘Garden City,’ Al Ain boasts an abundance of parks, leafy boulevards and springs – unique in a region that’s otherwise as withered as a forgotten houseplant.
More than 200 springs feed the 147,000 date palms and mango, fig and sidr trees in Al Ain Oasis, which sprawls across an area the size of London’s Heathrow Airport. That oasis is one of several sites recognised by UNESCO for its sophisticated aflaj irrigation system: water drawn from underground sources – wells and aquifers – is transported via aqueducts to the oasis, where it is dispersed via a network of channels. The oasis is a working plantation, with mud-wall boundaries, but visitors can explore the shady paths that snake through the site on foot, by bike or on horseback.
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