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The city of Sharjah is renowned for its commitment to art and culture, and the city has also done well to preserve its local heritage. In 1998, the city was rewarded with the title: 'Cultural Capital of the Arab World' by UNESCO.
The history of Sharjah dates back to 5000 years when it was one of the wealthiest towns in the gulf region. At that time, the population of the city was very low, and the income sources were associated with economic activities such as trade, farming, hunting, fishing and pearl farming.
In the 16th century, the town became a little unstable as the Portuguese conquered area at the east coast in order to control the spice trade. The fort at Khor Fakkan, Kalba and Dibba were built under their command. After that, the Dutch tried to dominate the area for the same reason.
The 17th century was the turning point of the city as the British arrived in the region and started trading with Qawasim, the forefathers' of present Sharjah's ruling family. Europeans preferred the area of the Gulf and Red sea for linking principal routes of communication between the Mediterranean and India.
In the early 18th century, ruling Qawasim turned out to be a more durable marine power in Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah. In 1804, Sultan bin Saqr bin Rashid Al Qasimi became the Sheikh of Sharjah. This forefather of the present ruler governed Sharjah for over 50 years.
At the end of the 18th century, the relationships between Qawasim and the British deteriorated as they blamed each other for attacks and misbehaviour.
In 1809, the initial land-based attacks by the British were stopped. In the year 1820, the first of other peace treaties were signed assuring maritime peace, security and protection of the British against any attacks for 150 years. Then the coast was known as Oman Peaceful Coast and Sheikhdoms of Oman as reconciled countries. Until the formation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971, these names were attached to the relevant regions.
The developing years brought many new things to the city. The city flourished with the help of coastal trading and pearling. In 1932, the city became the staging point for the Imperial Airways flights departing from England to India and vice versa.
The city was the regional base for the British RAF until 1971. The British presence in the city officially ended with the formation of the UAE. On 2nd December 1971, Sharjah became part of the United Arab Emirates as a founder member. In 1972, His Highness Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi succeeded as the ruler of Sharjah. In the same year, oil was found in the Mubarak oilfield situated 80kms offshore and close to the Abu Mousa Island. The production of oil began two years later and also gas drilling was started in 1990.
Since the discovery of oil, Sharjah city has developed hugely by utilising the availability of natural wealth (thanks to its geographical location) and the wisdom provided by the Sharjah ruler, H.H. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi. Though, at the same time, the city has never escaped from its traditional values as an Islamic city.
Sharjah is renowned for its commitment to art, culture and preserving its heritage. In 1998, it was awarded by UNESCO as the Cultural Capital of the Arab World. The city has become the leading centre of education. Additionally, it houses several museums, parks, an aquarium, a centre for Arabian wildlife as well as providing many modern facilities to visitors.
Sharjah is the only Emirate that has banned the sale, possession and consumption of alcohol. The decency laws of the UAE (introduced in 2001) are strictly followed in this city. Also, a conservative dress code is required for both men and women.
The official national language of the UAE is Arabic, although, English, Hindi and Urdu are also widely spoken in the city. The official religion is Islam, which is widely practised by Emirate nationals. The UAE is liberal about other religions, but religious activities that may interfere with Islam are not allowed.