Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Culture and Civilization in Sharjah

Today we explored Sharjah.  The International Exchange Office at American University of Sharjah (AUS) arranged for our tour today.  We visited so many different places and saw quite a bit.  We stopped by Union square to get some picture taking in.  Below is a picture of the Library at Union square, but not a public library.

There was also a few other government buildings.  In the center of the square is a Qur'an.  The Qur'an is very important to the culture and government, hence its monumental placement at the center of this governmental square.  Someone was trying to cool off in the shade of the large Qur'an.  I'm sure that must have some significance finding relief from the heat under the shade of the Qur'an.

Along with the government buildings there was also a mosque.  Here is a picture of the mosque tower.

On all mosques you find a tower.  It is where the call for prayer is made.  In olden days there was a person given the specific task of performing this duty, he was called a Muazzin.  In modern times, you will find loudspeakers mounted on the tower instead.

When then drove past the fort originally owned by Naboodah, who was a rich pearl merchant in 1845.  There is his house which does look like a house.  We didn't visit there unfortunately, but we went to the building that used to house his meeting rooms and such.  Nowadays, it is souq, where tourists can purchase everything from antiques and rugs to postcards and Sharjah T-shirts to jewerly and gold statues.  It has many different items, but remember to haggle.  I saw one of our exchange classmates haggle an embroidered parasol from 175 Dirhams to I think about 60 Dirhams.  We stopped in the small restaurant there to have chicken or lamb or beef Biryani with dates, some vegetables, and a hot vegetable soup/sauce one classmate said was to be put over the rice of the Biryani.  I was told it was a traditional Emirati dish, and another classmate said it was also an Indian dish.  It was good in any case and the size of the meal was too much for me to consume in one setting.

Next we stopped by the Museum of Islamic Civilization which was amazing.  The outside of the building is beautiful by itself.  It has colored bricks and from its shape you can obviously see that it once was a souq itself before becoming the museum.  Inside there was beautiful tapestries and rugs with Koranic verses threaded upon the cloth.  There was excellent information on the cards detailing the importance of the hijra and Kaaba for Muslims.  There were several different galleries.  My favorites included the Islamic art gallery which had many different pieces on display, from ornamented daggers and swords to  paintings and glassware.  My favorite gallery was the one on science and technology.  There were quite a few world globes on display along with other scientific instruments that assisted early Islamic scientists and explorers.  Below is a picture of my favorite item on display.

Inside the elephant is a water clock, that marks the passing of time and by looking at the top semi circle, you can tell the time.  When the clock strikes the hour, the man atop the elephant beats his drum and the two birds at top drop balls into the dragons' mouths who in turn drop the balls into urns behind the elephant driver to either side.  Below is a close up of the top of the clock, including the semi circle, birds, and dragons.

After the Islamic civilization museum we had a quick break for Turkish coffee, before spending time at the maritime museum.  Maritime history was very important for Sharjah.  Sharjah is ruled by the Qasimi tribe and before the Portuguese arrived, this tribe commanded control of the gulf and maritime trade in the area.  This coastline was also famous for its pearl fishing, up until synthetic pearls became cheaper to buy.  Until then, the best pearls were claimed to be found here in the gulf.  This museum detailed much of this history as well as contained displays of the tools used in pearling, fishing, and boat construction.  There was one saw that was huge needing two people to use it.  Some of the most characteristic boats were dhows, but there were also models of boats built with Portuguese influence and a life size model of a boat made from bamboo.  This museum was very interesting, but didn't my attention for maybe 30/45 minutes.  

Our last stop for the day was at the Qasba area.  We had dinner at various spots in the area.  There is also the Eye of the Emirates here as well.  It was designed after the Eye of London, but not quite as big.  I unfortunately I didn't get the chance to board the eye, I was told I didn't miss out on much.  The eye is surrounded by the water on one side and then tall skyscrapers on the other side.  So there are great views of the water, but not so much of the actual city.

So today was a wonderful adventure.  There was so much interesting history we learned about and the sites were great.  All the oldness of the heritage sites and museums is collaborative juxtaposition with the newness of the malls, skyscrapers, and the Eye of the Emirates.  There is a trip to Dubai on Thursday looking at the great sites of Dubai.  I'm looking forward to finding out Dubai is known for other than shopping.

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