Go back in time to discover the history of Dubai in the nearby mountain town of Hatta.
Travel back in time to an era of citadels, forts and towers in the mountain town of Hatta, dating back several centuries. This quiet retreat, nestled in the craggy peaks of the Hajar Mountains, is known for its ancient Hatta Fort and the remnants of an old village which is still being assessed by historical authorities. The area was once called Al Hajerin or Al Hajeran, in reference to the two mountain peaks guarding its north and south borders, and it makes a spectacular weekend escape.
Located nearly 130km south-east of central Dubai, Hatta’s craggy mountain cliffs, scattered springs and lush valleys offer a stark contrast to the glassy facades of the city. Fertile land, favourable climate and a restored falaj, or irrigation system, once allowed for agriculture and farming to thrive. Villagers depended on the cultivation of palm trees, dates and byproducts for their livelihood.
These low-cost, desert-dwelling trees were enough to sustain daily life; dates would be harvested for domestic food needs or dried and sold. Palm leaves were woven into mats, fans and carpets, while tree trunks were used to construct tents and houses.
Farming continues to be a major activity in Hatta and, today, more than 550 farms operate across the nearly 140sqkm area, representing 10% of the land. Visitors can see the remnants of this past in small farms within the village, as well as plans for the future in the form of new bird and animal conservation areas.
In the past, due to the scarcity of rainwater, residents had to depend on groundwater wells and springs. But following the construction of a number of dams, water is now available all year round in the wadis (valleys) cradled by the mountains. These are replenished by rainwater in winter, which typically breathes new life in the valleys, with flora and fauna emerging spectacularly.
The main Hatta Dam was constructed in the late 1990s, and the reservoir took two years to fill, bringing much-needed respite to Hatta’s residents, who now had access to a sustainable water supply.
Hatta Dam is now one of the main attractions in the area, with the bright, turquoise water set against the earthy rock offering a stunning photo opportunity. Visitors can drive along the dam and stop at viewpoints for photographs, or trek across it and down the hilly terrain.
Flanked by the mountains, Hatta enjoys a cooler climate than its coastal counterparts. The summits of the Hajar mountains reach 800m-1600m and were first formed under the seabed in ancient times. Their imposing presence includes beautiful rock formations and crevices, sculpted by years of geological activity.
In the heart of the town is Hatta Heritage Village which has been preserved and reconstructed by the government to showcase rural living dating back centuries. Opened in 2001, the village brings to life Dubai’s heritage, with reconstructed traditional huts and buildings selling traditional wares. The village also houses life-size prototypes, documents, and sculptures.
Located within the Heritage Village is the Bait Al Wali, one of the largest houses, where the ruler would reside. It has several rooms, a courtyard and a shaded seating area. Here you’ll see cultural garb, jewellery, weaponry, pottery and utensils, made by villagers using clay, leather and copper, which was mined in the mountains. Visitors are also enlightened about social customs, from marriage to folklore, games to traditional songs. It’s the perfect place to take a family on an afternoon visit.
Forts and citadels
Also on show is the main Hatta Fort, one of several structures built around the UAE for defence and surveillance purposes, but also formed the centre of public discourse.
Built in 1896, the Hatta Fort is one of the most significant architectural monuments in the UAE. The structure functioned both as a residence and for defence and features a large internal courtyard and an 11m high watchtower. The building, which was restored in 1995, is made of mountain stones and mud bricks, while the ceiling is constructed using palm fronds, trunks and mud.
The two round watchtowers overlooking the mountain village were built in the 1880s. They are located 2.5m above ground level and have a small door and semi-circular staircase leading to the roof. Guards would use ropes to scale the towers and enter through the doors.
The historical area also celebrates key events on the UAE’s national calendar, including National Day, Flag Day and the Dubai Shopping Festival.
A short walk from the village is the palm tree farm known as the Al Sharia site. Here you can take a tranquil walk under the trees and explore the falaj, the ancient irrigation system, which extends several kilometres under ground before appearing on the surface.
Near the village is the Hatta Hill Park, built in 2004. The 63,915sqkm area is popular for picnics and barbecues, and has a tower, which makes an excellent vantage point. From here, you can take in a bird's-eye view of the Hajar and the villages.
What to do in Hatta?
Whether it's mountain biking, hiking or camping, Hatta is the ideal destination for thrill-seekers and nature lovers. Check out our must-do list now.