There’s an awful lot more to Sharjah than meets the eye, including a rich history dating back millennia. But some of the quirkier things most people don’t see behind the scenes are more recent…
Sharjah was home to the first cinema in the UAE
Set up by the British at Mahatta, Sharjah’s airport, the cinema was first opend in 1945. Attendees would sit on used oil cans filled with sand to watch Pathe News newsreels and short features. Sharjah was an important overnight stop on the Imperial Airways route from Croydon to Sydney but would also become the base of British forces in the UAE, formerly known as the Trucial States. Founded in 1951, the ‘Trucial Oman Levies’ would become the ‘Trucial Scouts’ and finally, on independence in 1971, the Union Defence Force. The site of the old British Army base in Sharjah, consisting mainly of a number of Nissen Huts, was to become the home of the first Choueifat School in the UAE.
Sharjah Fort was almost completely demolished in the 1980s
Sharjah Fort (Al Hisn Sharjah) was almost completely demolished by the former ruler of Sharjah Sheikh Khaleed who wanted to expurgate the memory of his predecessor, Sheikh Saqr. Hearing of the demolition (he was a student in Cairo at the time), the current Ruler of Sharjah, Dr Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi, rushed home to try and halt the destruction of the fort, which is thought to date to before 1830. Arriving too late to save most of the fort – only one tower survived – he managed to persuade his brother to halt the demolition and managed to save the original doors and windows from the fort and make detailed notes regarding the lines of the foundations and walls of the fort. Some two decades later, his act of salvage was to result in the fort being rebuilt in a remarkably precis reconstruction of the original.
Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club was a gift to the Expat Community from the Ruler
The Sharjah Wanderers started life in 1976 when a group of expats who worked for construction companies such as Halcrow and Tarmac wanted to start a rugby pitch. The group, many of whom played for the Dubai Exiles rugby team, approached the ruler of Sharjah, HH Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, and asked if he would allow them to build a pitch. Dr Sultan gave them the land, at the time in a site far removed from the city and only accessible by 4X4 vehicles. A community effort resulted in the construction of the pitch and a clubhouse which has evolved to become, over the past 38 years, a lively community centre.
Sharjah used to be home to the biggest brass lamp in the world
Sitting opposite what is today the Radisson Blu (formerly the Intercontinental Sharjah, then the Sharjah Continental), the Aladdin Hotel was a stopping-off point for a number of high profile visitors, including Sean Connery, who would stop over at Sharjah on their way through to other destinations. The hotel was topped with a gigantic brass lamp, sadly lost when the hotel was demolished in the 1990s.
Mothercat was a roundabout
The interchange next to the Gold Souk in Sharjah used to be a roundabout, called Mothercat Roundabout after the Mother Cat Construction company compound, which was adjacent the roundabout. The company is so old, its PO Box is Sharjah 121. Other ‘lost’ roundabouts include Flying Saucer roundabout and ‘flame’ roundabout, which today is known as ‘Book’ or ‘Koran’ Roundabout. Although its formal name is Cultural Square (despite the fact it’s round!).