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United Arab Emirates: Hili Archaeological Park

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Hili Archaeological Park | United Arab Emirates | Asia

[Visited: March 2016]

Al Ain has been inhabited for thousands of years, and it lays claim to being one of the longest settled areas in the world. The city itself does not give away any clue about this heritage, so I head to Hili Archaeological Park, 10km north of the city centre, to step back in time. I have chatted with the guard of the park in the morning; he turned out to be from Mauritania, but now looking after the park conserving the heritage of Al Ain. When I park the car, I see big SUVs, and men taking out strollers while the mothers take the kids out of the cars. I am a little puzzled about this, and soon find the explanation: while this park has some old finds, it is mostly a recreational area for families.

Picture of Hili Archaeological Park (United Arab Emirates): The best reconstructed building in the park, Hili Grand Tomb can only be seen from the outside

It is laid out with lots of space and, like much of Al Ain, it is surprisingly green - given the fact that we are, after all, in the desert here. There are lots of spaces for kids to play, and the sign saying that it is forbidden to play football is completely ignored. Nobody really seems to care much about the historic significance of the place. Actually, it is hard to find the archaeological sights after which the park is named; there is no map or indication. I end up hunting down confined spaces with brown signs - they explain what is inside. The first sight is right at the entrance, and does not have an explanatory sign; it looks pretty well restored, but I cannot really understand from its shape what its function must have been.

Picture of Hili Archaeological Park (United Arab Emirates): Reconstructed section of building close to the entrance of the park

The next stop is a large square space, with ruins in such a bad state it is not easy to make out what they are. This is Hili 1 settlement, it is only partly excavated, and it apparently consisted of houses made of mud bricks. It also had round towers with a well, which were normally located in the centre of a building. It is easy to understand that in this environment, access to water was vital. The best restored part of the park is Hili Grand Tomb, a circular building with big blocks of white stones perfectly fitting one in the other. Unfortunately, like the other historic buildings of the park, you can only admire it from a distance. The tomb is 12 metres in diameter, has two entrances, and inside, has four chambers with two cross-walls. It is thought that the tomb once had a dome on top. Rock engravings depicting humans and animals adorn the entrance of the tomb. Close to the Grand Tomb are Tombs N and E, which are much lower; one rectangular, the other circular. Good thing about the circular one being low is that you can easily peek into the inside, and see the interior walls of the tomb. Here, again, the stones are cut with meticulous precision. Now that I have seen a little of the history of Al Ain, I am ready for the museum where most of the finds of these sites have gone, so I head back to the city centre.

Picture of Hili Archaeological Park (United Arab Emirates): Close-up of the partly reconstructed tomb
Picture of Hili Archaeological Park (United Arab Emirates): Circular and rectangular tombs E and N
Picture of Hili Archaeological Park (United Arab Emirates): Hili 1 settlement, excavated by a Danish team in 1965
Picture of Hili Archaeological Park (United Arab Emirates): Reconstructed building at the entrance of the park
Picture of Hili Archaeological Park (United Arab Emirates): The ruins of Hili 1 settlement dating from the Bronze Age, the oldest such settlement in the UAE
Picture of Hili Archaeological Park (United Arab Emirates): Palm tree on top of a hill
Picture of Hili Archaeological Park (United Arab Emirates): Inside of the park with fountain, lanes and trees

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