An idyllic cove, an imposing mountain range and five thousand years of human history on Sharjah’s east coast.
The Khorfakkan Corniche bursts with activity on a Friday afternoon. Families picnic in large groups pouring al-qahwa Arabic coffee and sharing platters of rice and grilled meats, children pushing one another on swing sets soar high up into the air shouting with excitement and groups of friends sit in circles in the shade of palm trees playing cards and enjoying the sound of crashing waves. Tucked away and unassuming what Khorfakkan lacks in big city bustle it more then makes up for in natural beauty and rich history.
Khorfakkan means the lagoon of two jaws, a reference to the shape of coastline on which it lays. The small seaside town is nestled into a bay between the Arabian Sea and the Shumayliyah Mountains which guard it from three sides. It is the site of the only natural deep sea port in the region built in 1979. The Khorfakkan Container Terminal’s multi color cranes are visible along the horizon standing in stark contrast to the many small fishing boats which cross the harbor multiple times every day and night supplying the town’s one fish market in much the same way they have been for generations.
“I have spent time in many cities throughout my life but I am like a fish out of water when I leave this place,” says Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim a life long Khorfakkan resident and artist. “I have not found the peace that exists in the mountains of Khorfakkan anywhere else in the world.”
Walking along a dusty trail along a quiet local mountainside one can imagine that people have been fishing in this bay and considering the quality of the silence here for a long time. In fact, the earliest traces of human settlements dates back over five thousand years to the burial sites and dwelling remains discovered by archeologist around the modern day port area.
Khorfakkan makes several appearances in the sixteenth and seventeenth century journals and log books of European visitors to the area. The famous Portugese writer Duarte Barbaroso described it as “a village around which are gardens and farms in plenty.” In the journal of Ventian jeweler and merchant Gasparo Balbi who recorded many names of
places along the east coast of the modern day UAE and Oman during his travels to the region, the name “Chorf ”was found while in the log book of the Dutch vessel Meerkat, the town of “Ghorfacan” appears with a short explanaition describing 200 homes where dates, figs, watermelons and myrrh were all cultivated with the help of fresh water springs.
It is the past bravery of Khorfakkan residents that is most widely recalled today. Local history is marred by sixteenth century invasions of Portugese armies vying for control of Arabian trade routes and the Strait of Hormuz. Despite the surrender of many local communities in the face of imposing Portugese forces the residents of Khorfakkan famously waged a bloody and valiant resistance. This opposition against occupation is being honored today with the construction of a memorial building in the shape of a helmet for which the foundation stone was laid last year by the ruler of Sharjah, HH Sultan bin Muhhamad Al Qassimi.
“The sun never sets in Khorfakkan” says Ibrahim with a smile referring to the three mountains that surround the town and have always obstructed the sunset from view. Stoic and silent, illustrated in a delicate pencil drawing on the five-dirham bill, they stand awaiting history’s next chapter.