Fortress of Ideas. It might be the smallest emirate but Ajman is full of cultural highlights, and the Ajman Museum is just one of many hidden secrets
It is in such good condition and the scenes inside are populated with such realistic figurines, that you would be forgiven for thinking the entire Ajman Museum’s fort structure was an extremely well constructed replica. However it is one of the oldest functional buildings in the country. Built in the late eighteenth century from coral stone and gypsum, the fort was preserved and restored by Sheikh Rashid Bin Humaid (1803-1838) and was home to the Ajman ruling family until 1970 when it became the police headquarters.
It was made into a museum in the 1980s and each room was populated with plastic figurines to demonstrate what they would have been used for had it still been populated. Other rooms were used to show other elements of life in preoil, pre-unified UAE such as a traditional barbershop, a coffee shop and a whole quarter dedicated to the commercial sport of pearling.
Yousef Al Mansouri, a tour guide who takes great pleasure in showing groups of school children and other visitors around on a daily basis, says that up to 400 people come every day. ‘Every emirate is different,’ he says. ‘Here in Ajman we don’t have skyscrapers like Dubai and maybe less shops and restaurants but we have more heritage and it is better preserved. There is a lot that happens here that people don’t know about.’
As a case in point he indicates a small room filled with out-dated recording equipment. ‘We had the first national radio station,’ he beams. Ajman Radio was founded in 1961 by Rashid Abdullah bin Hamadhu. Presenters included a blind teacher of the Quran who delivered the Friday sermon in the Grand Mosque in Ajman and a teacher who hosted a listener’s request show. The station was battery operated and was so popular that Hamadhu erected a 30 metre antennae atop his house in the east of the emirate until he was forced to close in 1965 due to lack of funding.
Elsewhere in the museum, visitors are welcomed to imagine what a traditional Emirati Bedouin wedding would look like and are even shown how prisoners were detained. A teacher from the Islamic School in Dubai, who is here escorting her class, says that it is a wonderful place for education. ‘We must teach the children about the history of their country,’ she says. ‘This is a great place to do it. For example, lots of these children can’t imagine a life without cars or electricity. But here they can see it in a realistic way.’
Peppered among the recreations are portraits of actual heroes from generations gone by. Although Al Mansouri is originally from Umm Al Qawain, he says he takes pride in seeing his ancestors and their achievements.
Malvin Ferreo, an Indian who has lived in Dubai for 10 years, says he always brings his visitors here to Ajman. ‘It is in the countryside,’ he says. ‘It is good to remember that people still follow the old traditions and you can really experience something different here. It is a slower life and one that people don’t expect to see when they come to the UAE.