UAE is known to be a young country, commonly referred to as the 'sandpit' . People know of the unification in 1971 and even less know that it was called the Trucial States which was a British protectorate earlier to that. If asked to describe the UAE before this period, one tends to imagine a desert landscape spanning thousands of miles in all directions, too harsh for human settlement.
A visit to Mleiha Archaeological Centre puts the record straight. The UAE and Mleiha in particular which is the central region of Sharjah, has played a significant role in history. To understand just how historic this area is, some of the tools found at Jebel Faya in Mleiha. were dated using a technique called thermoluminescense. The results are truly awe inspiring. The artifacts were placed between 100,000 and 125,000 years old! This is the earliest evidence of modern humans found anywhere outside Africa and implies modern humans left Africa much earlier than previously thought. Mleiha had favourable conditions for the settlement of modern humans. Through its mountains they built caves, through its hills, they built farms and through its meadows they built homes and palaces.
Mleiha Archaeological Centre recieves visitors to this historic region and offers many educational and adventure activities. It acts as a gateway to one of the most ancient journeys taken my man. The Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism project was developed by the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) and designed by Dabbagh Architects. Its curving form is inspired by the Umm An Nar (Bronze Age) tombs, one of which acts as the centre piece for the design. The structure was conceptualized to provide three unique experiences and those include the gentle descent using wide steps towards the Tomb, the promenade of the roof allowing an overview look of the Tomb and the exhibition area in the centre. Mleiha has stood resilient despite dramatic environment and climate change through five eras: Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, Iron and pre-Islamic, of which the Centre aims to be a symbol. The exhibition area sequentially covers all five of these historical periods.
Mahmoud Rashid Deemas, Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Project Manager says: “It’s just like how you read a book or a story. You go through different sequences until you fully understand and appreciate the story’s authenticity, and this is how we, at Shurooq, wanted to share the story of
Mleiha to all visitors and tourists when we first conceptualised the visitor centre. We wanted to take them from the giant look of the Tomb onto the rich discoveries and findings which were made to understand what Mleiha really was. It didn’t take long for tourists and UAE residents to feel and realize the strong connection between the design of the Mlieha Archaeological Centre and the 130,000-year- old story it included, embarking on a true authentic experience on our Emarati traditions, values and history.”
The design derived further details from history such as the use of copper on the walls to echo ancient copper workshops existing in the area thousands of years ago. Restoration of flora such as palm and ghaf trees, was undertaken to improve the environmental conditions around the tomb. The way the copper roof of the centre cascaded down in jagged forms mirroring the sharp edges of a desert rose.
In our quest to find contextual and meaningful built spaces, a building that draws people into nature and into history holds high regard. The building was designed to sit rooted in its surroundings and above all, is sensitive to it. The centre offers many interesting insights into the lives of people in ancient times, which we highly recommend you go there and unearth for yourself. Apart from being informative, the centre also organizes treks, sunset lounges and adventure activities which can be booked through their website: https://www.discovermleiha.ae/ The design won the Best Community, Culture & Tourism Project Award in the Middle East award at Cityscape Global in 2016.
Mleiha offers that rare chance to enter a contemporary building and walk straight into a time long gone but maybe not forgotten.