Qahr Al Hosn dates back to the 18th century when the Al Nahyan family were ruling.
24 July 2013| Last updated on 11 December 2017
Despite the skyscrapers towering above its white walls today, Qasr Al Hosn also known as Al Hosn Palace or White Palace, tells the story of rulership by the Al Nahyan family going back to the 18th century.
The story begins in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi around 1760, upon the discovery of fresh water on Abu Dhabi Island, which initiated the formation of settlements in the area, (this would in turn allow a pearl diving and fishing culture to establish itself and develop over time into what is now Abu Dhabi City). The leader of the Bani Yas tribes, Sheikh Dhiyab Bin Isa built a watchtower to guard the precious water source against raiders. His son, Sheikh Shakhbut Bin Dhiyab (1793 - 1816) then transformed the simple tower into an impregnable fort. As Abu Dhabi’s role and status grew in importance and due to the strategic and political changes that required Bani Yas to move to the coast, Sheikh Shakhbut decided to transfer his ruling place of residence from Liwa Oases to the palace known as Qasr al Hosn in the heart of Abu Dhabi Island.
With the expansion of the settlement and rising commercial importance of Abu Dhabi, the watchtower was amended by the addition of fortification walls, which were expanded into a fort by Sheikh Shakhboot bin Diyab around 1795. Since then Qasr Al Hosn combined administration, as well as residence facilities, for the ruling Al Nahyan family.
When the pearling industry boomed in the Gulf Region, Qasr Al Hosn became increasingly more vital for the maintenance and protection of maritime trade. As a solitary stone building in the midst of a settlement of palm frond huts (Barasti), the palace was further expanded and cannons were added to it fortification. However, the phase of economical stability and prosperity was followed by years of hardship during the World War I, which coincided with the downturn of the pearling industry due to the invention of artificial pearl fabrication by Japanese pearling companies. Accordingly, the palace was not expanded further, until the discovery and exploration of oil in 1958. In those troubled times, the fort provided shelter and refuge, as well as a place to discuss and dissolve disputes with the surrounding tribes.
In 1966, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan reserved the premises exclusively for government administration and ordered further renovations between 1976 and 1985. For some time, Qasr Al Hosn accommodated the local police and later the Centre for Documentation and Research before both expanded beyond the palace’s capacities.
The White Palace, (although it was never white until the 1976–1983 renovations when it acquired a bright white painted concrete render) is linked to the Cultural Foundation, which accommodates exhibitions, arts workshops and classes, as well as cultural events, and is operated by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH). In 2007, the ADACH launched a comprehensive expansion plan for the palace, in order to preserve its historical structure in a way that gives justice to its role as a landmark for Abu Dhabi. From its humble beginnings as a single watchtower to a government administration centre for a modern nation state, the construction and expansion of Qasr Al Hosn will reflect on a small scale the development of Abu Dhabi Emirate on the whole.
Currently the palace is undergoing an extensive restoration project, which is scheduled for completion in 2012, after which Qasr Al Hosn will be open for visitors. The museum located inside the palace will display artifacts and historical photographs that describe the wildlife in Abu Dhabi specially featuring desert life while the historical section shall showcase exhibits that demonstrate the history and civilisation in Abu Dhabi. The tower exhibits an array of weapons that were made use of throughout Abu Dhabi's evolution from ancient times.
Qasr Al Hosn will always remain a spiritual symbol for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, combining its history, heritage, and civilization across the ages. It will be a place to honour its people and celebrate the emirate culture and identity.