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Julfar is a historic town that existed around the periods of between the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The historic Julfar includes the al-Mataf, al-Dar-bahaniyah and al-Nudud localities. According to the documents left from those times, Julfar seems to be a forerunner of the current city of Ras al-Khaima in UAE. In fact, Julfar has been widely mentioned by historians and geographers who have carried most of their investigations and researches around the Arabic region. Julfar stands as one of the most studied historic towns as far as archaeological works in the Gulf are concerned. The history of the town has attracted different archaeologists who have subjected the area to excavations in a quest of unearthing the rich history of the town. The historic Town of Julfar is also connected with the Islamic conquests that the Northern Emirates witnessed. In addition, this town represents the beginning of urbanization in the Arabian region. Reports on investigations of the site provide information on the rise and the gradual fall of the town of Julfar, which will be discussed in this paper. The importance of the town of Julfar to Emirati history will also be discussed in this paper.
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The Rise of Julfar
Significant information relating to the rise of the historic town of Julfar dates back to the fourteenth century. The town is believed to have developed from a small fishing site, growing in leaps and bounds to the state of and achieving full urbanization by mid-fifteenth century. The locality of al-Mataf is believed to be the core of Julfar’s rise since the area of al-Mataf was the main region of urban settlement in Julfar.
The urban settlement in Julfar became possible mainly due to pull factors within the region. The region contained rich water supplies that could be exploited through wells. The availability of water led to the development of palm gardens with the concentration of these gardens bordering the area of Wadi al-Bih to the west (Kennet, 2003). The region was among the largest arable areas of UAE. The outwash resulting from the fans at the lower regions of the mountain above it generated sedimentation and produced water that was exploitable for agricultural purposes. The region also had a pair of gigantic lagoons, which had long sandbars that provided protection for the region from encroachment from the seaside. The lagoons were even more important as far as food production was concerned, serving as a major source of food. Steady food supplies from the lagoons continuously attracted more and more people to the town of Julfar, creating a large population to sustain the activities of the urban area.
The historic town of Julfar also had a natural harbour that was instrumental in boosting economic activities in the region. It should be noted that economic activities in the region were a crucial backbone of the rise of the town of Julfar. The lagoons also served as shelter where ships could dock while bringing various supplies from or shipping to other regions. French excavations also provide evidence of the economic activities – the coins that were found in the region during excavations (Kennet, 2003). In fact, economic activities fuelled the growth of Julfar further as they attracted more people above those who had been attracted by the availability of food supplies.
The town of Julfar also had a wall around it that also contributed to the rise of this historical town. The wall, which is believed to had been built before the twelfth century, provided crucial fortification to the town. The wall protected the town administratively and also restricted settlement within the oasis. The palm gardens in Julfar also helped in the defence of the town. Although the palm gardens grew naturally, they formed patterns that separated the mountain and the coastline, allowing the occupants of the town to defend their territory with ease. In the construction of the walls, the engineers also took advantage of the natural defence provided by the lagoons. The deep ditches cutting across gravel made of concrete were combined with a mud brick wall to form defensive structures due to a total height of about 4-5 meters. The fortifications ensured that the town of Julfar was secure, which provided the residents of the town with ample time to concentrate on the town developments without major distractions. The security of the town together with steady food supplies and the economic activities fuelled the rise of the town.
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The Demise of Julfar
Whereas Julfar developed into a protected and economically strong town, it declined gradually during a period of about 250 years. The main backbone of the development of Julfar had been the lagoon that saw the town exist as an oasis. However, as amount of silt continued to grow in the lagoon, it could no longer be used as a natural harbour for ships to dock, offload and load. This led to a decline in business activities that characterized the town. With a decline in commercial activities, the main administrative centre of Julfar, which also served as the main commercial centre, was shifted. The new location on the south-western lagoon was, however, far away from the original settlement of Shimal, which was largely an oasis settlement. As such, the new centre lacked the necessary population to support commercial activities because it had not been part of the major settlement of Julfar.
The shifting of the main administrative and commercial centre created a geographical distance that gradually fuelled the growth and development of two different entities, with the name Julfar gradually losing its prominence. Eventually, Julfar was associated with the oasis settlement and because attention had been shifted to the new settlements, Julfar began to be mentioned less and less. As these changes persisted, al-Khaimah emerged as a town, gradually rising to become Julfar’s new centre. More social and economic developments continued to influence the growth of al-Mataf’s. The ultimate result of these developments was the strengthening of Ras al-Khaimah (Velde, 2012).
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The Importance of Julfar to Emirati History
The historic town of Juftar is of great importance to Emirati history because it is a representation of the rich history the Arabic region. In fact, the series of excavations carried in the region do not come as a surprise. Many historians and geographers in a quest of unearthing the rich history of Julfar worked on the site, making it one of the most surveyed sites within the Gulf. Information from the various excavations has been compiled to provide a detailed report of the events that took place in the historic town and its peculiarities, including the architectural uniqueness of the town. The number of excavations in the area by different people serves as evidence of the uniqueness of the historic town. The known excavations so far include the Iraqi excavations, Hansman’s excavations, Japanese excavations, German excavations, French excavations and British excavations (Velde, 2012). The information from their reports includes, but is not limited to the town’s history as far as trade and construction was concerned. Putting all the information records together makes it easy for any interested parties to access the information whenever they need.
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Julfar also shows that Emirati appreciate their rich history. The recognition of Julfar’s historical importance by Ras al-Khaimah’s Department of Antiquities and Museums shows how much the people and the authorities in the region value Julfar. The value of the archaeological site goes beyond its economic cost. It reminds the Emirati residents of their rich history. It is also evident that these people have learnt much from Julfar, borrowing what they believe should be upheld, especially in the area of trade, and learning from what was not done particularly well. With different parties from different parts of the world being allowed to carry excavations in the area, it shows that the people of Emirati take pride in the archaeological site to the extent that foreigners have been allowed to carry research in the area. In fact, the past international research on the site included collaboration with Japan and the European countries, such as France, Germany and Britain (Velde, 2012).
It is evident that Julfar holds an important part in Arabic history, which has been documented in many sources following a series of about seven archaeological excavations carried in the area. The town represents one of the region’s highest urbanization levels of its time. The historic town qualifies to be referred to as an urban centre because of its dense population that resulted from the town’s robust structures. The town had adequate food supplies to support the dense population and was well fortified to ensure security of the town. With the dense population in Julfar, commercial activities intensified in the town, further fuelling the development of the town. However, despite the robust structures that facilitated the rise of Julfar, the town faded with time following the shifting of its main commercial and administrative centre. The centre was moved to a new location that led to the rise of two different territories. At long last, people started to talk less of Juftar as it fell as once developed urban area. Today, the main remains of the historic town of Julfar are rich history.
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