Discover a rare, never-before-seen piece of UAE history on your next trip
13 June 2019| Last updated on 24 July 2019
A historical mark of tolerance from thousands of years ago
Following years of careful conservation efforts, a church and monastery reopened for public visitation after almost two decades since its discovery in Abu Dhabi. The monastery is estimated to have been active around the 7th and 8th century CE, making it the oldest and only ancient Christian site in the country.
Renamed as the Church and Monastery of Sir Bani Yas, the site has been excavated by the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey (ADIAS) since 1992 to unveil how the monks had lived in the region. The site was identified as a church upon discovery of plaster crosses and the build of the living quarters, courtyard, surrounding wall, and central building, which reflected that of ancient churches at the time.
What's new with the old site
Buried in history for centuries, the re-opening presents sections of the site and artefacts that have never been displayed to the public before.
Ceramic objects, a water cistern, and glass vessels excavated from the church provides the public with an insight on the monastic settlement.
The site is protected by a specialized shelter design that conserves sections of the monastery, shielding it from the heat, sand, birds, and rain.
His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, Cabinet Member and Minister of Tolerance, opened the site to the public at its inauguration ceremony. He was joined with the Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, Mohammad Khalifa Al Mubarak, archeological experts, theologists, and priests.
During the ceremony HE Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan said, “The Sir Bani Yas Church and Monastery sheds light on our cultural history, one that we can be proud of; its existence is proof of the longstanding values of tolerance and acceptance in our lands.’’
He added, ‘’This further emphasizes the importance of cross-cultural dialogue and collaboration, as the site provides evidence of the UAE’s openness to other cultures.”
Where did all the monks go?
Experts believe that the inhabitants converted to Islam or did not follow church regulations.
According to Dr. Richard Cuttler, an archaeologist at the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, there were no signs of a coerced end to the monastery.
Eventually, the inhabitants likely married and joined the local society.
Picture credit: Victor Besa/The National
How to visit the church and monastery
The site is in Sir Bani Yas island, located in Al Dhafra, west of Abu Dhabi. It is accessible from Jebel Dhanna via a 20-minute ferry ride with trips from 12PM, 3PM, 6PM, and 11PM daily. On Fridays, there is an additional 10:30 AM trip. The boat ride is complimentary for guests who are staying at Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara.
It takes another 15 – 20 minute bus ride to reach the location.
Sir Bani Yas is also home to three resorts, adventure activities, and a beautiful reserve with thousands of free-roaming wildlife such as oryx, hyenas, giraffes, gazelles, including a variety of plant species.