Located around 200 kilometers from the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi, on the eastern coast of Sir Bani Yas Island, lies the country’s oldest Christian site.
Originally discovered in 1992, the archeological treasure has recently opened to the public.
Named Church and Monastery of Sir Bani Yas, the site is believed to date back around 1,400 years. Its excavation has revealed a complex history of the people who lived there.
“I think it’s a misconception that there is no archaeology here,” says Peter Magee, an archaeologist at the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism. “There are other sites that remain un-excavated. The archaeology here goes back 8,000 years.”
In the early nineties, the rocky infrastructure was thought to have no religious association. After further investigation, however, Christian crosses were unearthed, as was the architectural framework of a church and monastery.
The floorplan of the house of prayer revealed dormitories, a kitchen, cells and burial sites. Decades later, a 2014 excavation team revealed further structures in the west, southwest, and northern area of the site.
Architects also found items which implied that monks living in the monastery kept cattle and made good use of the sea for food. While other objects suggested they traded with their Muslim neighbours in the Arabian Gulf in the 7th and 8th century.
Today, a decorative frieze, which is believed to have framed the doorway of the holy site, is on display at Abu Dhabi’s Louvre Museum.
“At least for 100 years, there was a Christian community here and Christians and Muslims were living very peacefully side by side,” says Magee, adding that the monastery is one of the few historic Christian sites in the Gulf.
Other similar plots in the region include Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province of Jubail and two churches on Kuwait’s Failaka Island.
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