Page 71 - Simply Abu Dhabi Magazine II

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a t rul y s p i r i tua l e x p e r i e nc e
A truly spiritual experience at a Christian Monastery
The UAE has a deeply fascinating history and it is one
that we are eager to know as much as possible about.
Being deeply spiritual, our stay at the Emirate Palace
simply had to include a visit to what we now consider to
be one of the wonders of the world. Worlds apart from
the glossy tower blocks that characterise Abu Dhabi’s
skyline, Sir Bani Yas Island, a natural island off the coast
of the Western Region was the favoured retreat of the
late Sheikh Zayed, founding father of the UAE. We fully
appreciate why he was so passionate about this remarkable
location. This region of stunning natural beauty can’t fail
to captivate. One of Sheikh Zayed’s personal interests was
the history of his people, and, knowing the island had
been inhabited by pearl fishermen since ancient times,
he allowed archaeological digs throughout his island
sanctuary in the early ’90s. This decision resulted in one
of the most important finds not only in the Gulf region,
but possibly in the world – the discovery of the ruins of a
seventh century Christian Monastery buried in the sands.
This tranquil island holiday resort has long been a firm
favourite amongst visitors to Abu Dhabi and now this
added attraction has taken us on an intriguing voyage of
discovery. Complementing the charming character of Sir
Bani Yas Island, this is one exciting tourism development
that we simply had to investigate. Like a breath of fresh
air, we took time out from the skyscrapers and bustling
malls of Abu Dhabi and travelled back in time on a
thrilling adventure to the undeveloped outreaches of the
emirate. 20 years after it was first discovered the remains
of this Christian monastery and church on Sir Bani Yas
Island opened to the public in December 2010. Believed
to have been settled around 600 AD by a community of
monks, this is one of the most significant archaeological
finds in the Gulf and we wanted to visit this amazing site
to discover more about life 1,400 years ago.
Natural tourism for the spirit
Amid desert islands renowned for their outdoor pursuits,
wildlife reserve and five- star resort, this public unveiling
of a seventh century monastery represents a unique
addition to the tourism attractions on a visit to Abu
Dhabi. Located on the eastern coast of Sir Yani Bas Island,
the 65sq m monastery would have been visible to pilgrims
sailing along trade routes to India. Inspired by a bygone
era we felt compelled to stop and pray, just as they would
have done, before continuing with their journey. And
are we glad we did – the peaceful atmosphere was awe-
inspiring for such spiritual beings as ourselves.
The outlines of the monastery walls are all that remain of
the building today, but this is no pile of rubble. Steeped
in history, visitor notice boards were conveniently placed
to inform us of the exact layout of the monastery and to
explain what each room was used for by the monks who
inhabited the building. Breathtaking displays showcased
the artefacts that have been uncovered so far, including
a veritable mix of bowls, glass vessels, ceremonial vases
and crucifixes originating from as far afield as Iraq and
India. We were rendered speechless by the beauty of
many of the items and gripped to hear of the remains of
a body buried in a crypt, believed to be that of a saint
who may have founded the monastery and whom visitors
came to worship. We were fascinated to explore the only
pre-Islamic Christian site in the UAE and amongst these
monastic ruins we were struck by an overwhelming sense
of heritage and culture that was truly humbling.
On a beguiling guided tour we were educated on the
history of the monastery whilst archaeologists continued
to dig into a fascinating past. Sharing in the story as
they continue to excavate for artefacts and details of the
past is a thrilling experience. To be part of it feels like a
secret, reserved for the privileged few. It was awesome to
realise that while we walked around the site soaking up
the history, the archaeologists may uncover further clues
into the lives and culture of inhabitants of the region in
centuries gone by.
A tranquil voyage of discovery
The only pre-Islamic Christian site in the UAE, the site
reveals how far Christianity spread in the Gulf region
during the seventh century and we felt honoured to hear
about this fascinating history at the site itself. During
our exhilarating visit, we couldn’t fail to be captivated by
this beautiful ancient site. We have visited many stunning
places in Abu Dhabi, but to be given an insight into the
rich heritage of Sir Bani Yas Island and the UAE was truly
The monastery is only one of 35 archaeological sites on
the island – the oldest dating back some 7,500 years – so
if a visit to the monastic ruins hypnotise you, as they did
us, the opening to the public of further sites in the future
are sure to bring you back to this incredible region. The
decision of the Tourism and Development Investment
Company (TDIC) to open up the monastery for public
viewing to increase the appeal of this stunning holiday
resort is not simply a boon for history buffs, but for
anyone wishing to soak up the rich heritage of Sir Bani
Yas Island during their trip to Abu Dhabi.
We were truly spellbound as we stepped back in time and
were overwhelmed by a huge sense of calm and wellbeing.
A&J would like to thank our tour guides for the
education we were given on our incredible day amongst
the monastic ruins. Having experienced it firsthand, a
visit to this seventh century monastery comes highly
recommended from A&J. A truly spiritual experience, we
were struck by a deep peace and returned to the Emirates
Palace with a sense of tranquillity feeling totally blessed.