Sharjah is the third largest and most populous city in the United Arab Emirates and is located north of Dubai, along the Persian Gulf coast. It is the capital of the emirate of the same name and all its administrative and commercial buildings are located there.
Although from a tourist point of view it is definitely overshadowed by its neighbour Dubai, there are many cultural and traditional projects in Sharjah, such as numerous museums, covering a wide range of topics such as archaeology, science, natural history, art and Islamic culture. There are two covered souks, several elegant mosques and public parks such as Al Montazah and Al Buheirah.
In the early 18th century, the Huwayla tribe settled along the shores of Sharjah and declared it independent. In 1820, the then Sheikh signed the General Maritime Treaty with Britain, allowing the protectorate to keep the Ottoman Turks out of the area.
Like Dubai and the other neighbouring emirates, Sharjah’s position straddling Europe and India made it an important hub for trade and it developed rapidly until 2 December 1971, the day Sheikh Khalid III united Sharjah with the other emirates to form the United Arab Emirates.
After the building boom in Dubai in the 2000s, skyscrapers and modern buildings sprang up in Sharjah too, in areas such as Al Khan and Khaled. These residential buildings and the constant increase in population, coupled with an inadequate road infrastructure, has meant that Sharjah suffers from constant traffic jams: many Sharjah residents in fact work in Dubai while others visit Dubai on weekends, thus making the main road links perpetually jammed every day of the week.
As stated earlier, although the proximity to Dubai clearly disadvantages Sharjah from a tourist point of view, there are many places to visit. The city’s main square is Rolla Square, with a large green park and a huge statue in the middle. It is very popular with locals, especially at weekends.
Shopping enthusiasts will find in Sharjah a wealth of shopping centres for all tastes, but also two characteristic souks. The Souk Al Markazi, or Blue Souq, is a major tourist destination and includes a gold market, a clothing market, and an antiques and jewellery market.
Sharjah’s other souk is Souk Al Arsah, part of the city’s redevelopment project known as the Heart of Sharjah, and completely renovated and refurbished.
Remnants of Sharjah in ancient times reside in Fort Mattah, built to accommodate travellers to the British Empire of the East (it was part of Sharjah airport until 1977 and is now an aviation museum) and Fort Al Hisn, the original fortress guarding Sharjah demolished in the 1970s and rebuilt in the 1990s. It dates back to 1820 and today houses a museum.
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