Sharjah: Arabia’s Culture Lover’s Capital

Travel trade illuminated by Sharjah’s cultural wonders at ITB Berlin

The Emirate of Sharjah has long been a magnet for culture enthusiasts seeking a deeper understanding of the civilisation of the Arab region, both traditional and contemporary – and for good reason. From its fairs and festivals to its museums and universities, Sharjah truly holds its own as a cultural capital in the region and is already attracting travellers hungry for culture. No wonder that Sharjah was named the Islamisc Culture Capital in 2014 for its unparalleled contributions to the preservation of heritage and culture.

Sharjah’s dedication to preserve its culture can be seen clearly through the traditional Arabian and Islamic architecture that characterises many of its landmarks. In an effort to shed light, quite literally, on that aspect, the emirate organises the now world famous Sharjah Light Festival, whereby landmarks across Sharjah bear three- dimensional light displays for ten days each February.

Combining local talents and internationally renowned artists, the festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to be amazed by the spectacular illumination of the emirate’s inspiring architecture, rich civilization, history and monuments. The Sharjah Light Festival is continuing to grow in prestige as a highly anticipated cultural event in the region that will give holiday-makers more reason to travel to the Arabian Gulf.

Away from architecture, Sharjah throws considerable weight behind art and literature, among other cultural activities. Every November since 1982, the emirate organises the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), a 10-day event that regularly attracts upwards of one million attendees annually (SIBF 2016 welcomed more than 2.31 million visitors, 1,681 publishing houses from 60 countries, with approximately 1.5 million titles on display). One of the largest book fairs in the world, the SIBF is among the most prestigious in the Arab world and the most exciting literary event in the region. In 2013, the respected book industry publication “The Bookseller” named SIBF one of the top four books fairs globally.

Also in the literary vein, the American University of Sharjah boasts an 11,000-square- metre library housing a staggering collection of 125,000 English- language books, as well as literature in other languages – chie y Arabic.

As for art, the Sharjah Art Museum is a three-storey exhibition space showing artworks and collections covering diverse mediums and techniques. The museum not only welcomes visitors daily from 8:00am to 8:00pm (4:00pm to 8:00pm on Fridays), but is free of charge. Throughout the year, the museum houses several temporary exhibitions and art events. The Museum’s Art Library, meanwhile, is home to over 4,000 titles in Arabic, English, and other languages, along with visual and audio materials.

Meanwhile, every April, Sharjah Heritage Days celebrates and preserves the customs and traditions of the UAE with a number of cultural activities, workshops, displays, and entertainment. The annual event coincides with UNESCO’S celebrations of Heritage International Day during the month of April, and is aimed at reminding current and future generations of the rich traditions of the past by throwing light on long-established customs, arts and professions in the region. Sharjah Heritage Days will appeal to tourists looking for an authentic expression of unique Emirati culture.

The gulf city has also established a dedicated Calligraphy Museum, and holds the Sharjah Art Biennial once every two years (the 13th edition is set to take place in 2017), as well as the Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial.

In over a decade of operation, the Sharjah Calligraphy Museum has collected over 300 works that adorn canvas, wood, paper and ceramics. The assortment includes historic paintings in the Ku c font and, most notably, the Al Hulia Al Sharifa by Iraqi calligrapher Ziad Al Muhandis (measuring 280x300cm and considered the largest in the Islamic world)