WIf everything goes according to plan for Sharjah, then it will soon be able to drop its unofficial nickname “the unknown emirate”. Then it should be called “the previously unknown and now third best known sheikhdom after Dubai and Abu Dhabi”, especially since the United Arab Emirates consist of a total of seven emirates, four of which are much less known than Sharjah, namely Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Chaima and Umm al-Qaiwain.
If you have a driver and ask him where Dubai ends and Sharjah begins, he will likely point to an inconspicuous bridge after about ten minutes and say: “Here. Sharjah begins after this bridge! ”Then drive under the bridge and on the other side you won’t feel much of a difference.
But soon the streets narrow, you can see that the buildings are meaningfully related to each other and not just pounded out of the ground with a dramatic gesture. You see shops instead of flagship stores, yes, you even see people walking on sidewalks, pedestrians!
In contrast to the centers of the two better known Emirates, Sharjah City, it turns out, is a city that actually works as such.
Differences to Dubai and Abu Dhabi
So it is more traditional than in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This also means that alcohol is not even sold in hotels in Sharjah. There are no nightclubs or bars either, no indoor ski slopes, no dinosaur roller coasters, and no houses that are roughly as high as those next door in Dubai.
An important commonality with Dubai and Abu Dhabi, however, is the precarious situation regarding human rights and laws (see below). Tourists in the Arab Emirates also have to fear draconian punishments for things that are fundamental rights in Europe. A stay can be particularly dangerous for homosexuals, women and unmarried people.
What Sharjah does differently from the better-known Emirates is that the cultural tradition is cultivated here with a view to the future. You can afford museums on subjects such as art, history, calligraphy and Islamic civilization, 17 in number, which give the best overview of the time before the oil boom in the Persian Gulf.
Sharjah also hosts an annual book fair, the third largest in the world. In 2019, Unesco even named the city the “World Capital of the Book”.
However, the event did not bring the hoped-for encouragement, but international protests, because Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and other anti-Semitic hate speeches were also presented at the fair. So travelers should not be blinded by Sharja’s cultural painting.
The only luxury hotel in the Emirate
Other regular events include the Sharjah Biennale, the largest exhibition of contemporary art in the Arab world, and the Architecture Triennale. Most recently, she dealt with urbanism.
It goes well with that Sharjah is currently making a few urban corrections and tearing down ugly houses in order to build the new Heart of Sharjah district in the center. Interestingly enough, the idea behind the new buildings will be even older than those that were previously demolished.
Architecturally, it should go back at least to the 1950s, i.e. the era before oil was found in the Emirates and the region became rich. The Heart of Sharjah is comparable to the reconstruction of the Berlin City Palace: At first glance, a historical shell that is to be used for exhibitions and gastronomy.
The heart of the project has so far been the “Al-Bait” hotel (“the home”). The Emirate’s only luxury hotel was built around four existing historic houses, one of which was the residence of a pearl merchant, the other the Sharja’s first post office.
You have to imagine the “Al-Bait” as a collection of one and two-story buildings with narrow streets in between, a cream-colored mini-medina with 53 rooms and suites, which is ideally suited to getting lost. You are constantly standing in front of any doors that open to magical courtyards, to a historic bazaar that is no longer part of the hotel, or to another part of the “Heart of Sharjah” that has already been completed.
Sharjah reflects on the past
Outside the hotel, Mohammed has taken on the task of showing visitors the surroundings. He is in his early 30s, comes from Egypt and actually wanted to be a football player.
That didn’t work, instead he went to Dubai to find his fortune in the tourism industry. Because he didn’t like Dubai anymore after a short time, he then looked for it in Sharjah. “Has more heart here,” he says, “is calmer.”
He is currently standing on the promenade in front of the hotel and is pointing to a dramatic building on the other side of the shore, the style of which is oriental-Wilhelmine: “This is the dish!”
And where does the next emirate begin? “Do you see the hotel over there?” Asks Mohammed, pointing to a massive building about two kilometers away. “Ajman begins shortly after,” the smallest of the seven Emirates.
Shortly before, in the “101 Café”, which sells Indian street food right on the water, there is a lot of activity, as well as on the other side of the street in the “Arabian Tea House”, a restaurant for Arabic specialties.
“The skyscraper up here,” says Mohammed, “that will be demolished soon.” The apartment blocks behind it would also disappear. “When you come back in five years, everything will be ready. Nice old, but new. ”Mohammed is happy.
While Dubai and Abu Dhabi are oriented towards a future that is not known whether it will ever happen, Sharjah focuses on a past that has long since passed. The third best known emirate has found its niche in the market.
Tips and information
Getting there: Usually a flight to Dubai, from the airport it is ten minutes by taxi to Sharjah.
Safety: The human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates is critical, and tourists can also face imprisonment. You should inform yourself well in advance (auswaertiges-amt.de), punishable are, inter alia, extramarital sex (rape victims also face persecution), pregnancy without marriage, drugs, alcohol, homosexuality, public tenderness, criticism of Islam, photography (also by mobile phone) of public buildings, ports, palaces, bridges and more .
Information desk: visitsharjah.com
Participation in the trip was supported by “Al-Bait Sharjah”. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at axelspringer.de/independency.