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Traversing Jebel Hafeet reveals Al Ain’s ancient past

Traversing Jebel Hafeet reveals Al Ain’s ancient past
29 Jan 2024 08:52

RAJEEV CHERIAN (AL AIN)

With its repository of cryptic clues to early human settlements in its foothills, Jebel Hafeet stands majestically in Al Ain city’s view. Once the floral-lined street of the Garden City draws closer to the mountain, a new pathway take you to summit of the mountain: Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road, celebrated as “among the world’s greatest driving roads”.
Stretching 11.7km, with as many as 60 bends, from tight hairpins to switchbacks, the street offers a captivating experience, meandering through the rocky landscape of the mountain. The road is ranked among the most picturesque in the world.

As the winding road takes its course to the summit - with two lanes going upward and one lane descending - vantage points and carparks are strategically located at regular intervals.

As the road reaches the peak, the summit presents an impressive view of Al Ain City.

Standing at 1,249 metres in height, the peak is the highest in Abu Dhabi and the second-highest in the UAE, after Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah. The Jebel Hafeet mountain range is 17km long and 4km wide, primarily consisting of tertiary sedimentary rock, or limestone, read an inscription at the site. Jabel Hafeet is part of the Hajar mountain range bordering Oman.

Visitors secure spots for photo opportunities at the summit, which also offers a family environment and play areas for kids.

“Weekends are busy here. The site is ideal for watching both sunrise and sunset,” said Mohamed Niyas, a taxi driver.
Also visiting the site is Abdullah, a UAE national from Abu Dhabi. “My little one has been demanding to come here for a long time. So today we are here. It’s beautiful, and he is happy now,” he said.

At the base of the mountain’s eastern side lies Jebel Hafeet Desert Park, some 20km south of Al Ain, offering visitors an immersive experience, featuring a family friendly environment to hike, mountain bike, take horse or camel rides, or have a pleasant stay in heritage tents on site.

At the bottom of the mountain in the Desert Park, visitors can view one of the area’s key archaeological highlights: clusters of Bronze Age tombs. Dating back 5000 years, the stone beehive-shaped tombs offer insights into Al Ain’s early inhabitants.

These tombs were constructed over a 500-year period between 3000 BCE and 2500 BCE, artefacts excavated around the tombs reveal trade links with ancient Mesopotamia, Iran, the Indus Valley (present-day Pakistan), and India, according to the Department of Culture and Tourism-Abu Dhabi website.

In addition to the Bronze Age site at the Desert Park, a total of 317 tombs have been discovered to the north and the east of the mountain dating back to 3200-2700 BC. Excavations resulted in  pottery, stone beads, and bits of copper. The pottery was not locally made, but imported from Mesopotamia, suggesting trade links.

Circular graves dating back to 3000BC are scattered along the eastern side of the mountain.
‘A Special Place’

“For thousand of years, Jebel Hafeet has held a special place in the lives of people from the region. The word ‘Hafeet’ was recorded as early as 10th century CE, when the Arab geographer Al Muqaddassi described it as one of the important places in this part of Arabia,” read an inscription at the site.

The UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, valued the cultural significance of the mountain, and by 1959, had invited Danish arachaelogists to excavate the area.

Their discoveries brought to light a new Bronze Age culture and initiated archaeological investigations in Al Ain that continue to this day.

In 2011, UNESCO recognised the Jebel Hafeet Desert Park as being a vital component of the World Heritage Site of Al Ain, the UAE’s first World Heritage Site.

Strolling the ruins is Jeanni from the US, who is visiting Abu Dhabi.

“I loved the ride, especially along the rock formations and the view from the mountain top. It’s interesting to explore the area, and it’s cool to a see a mountain from the base.”

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