Jazirat al-Hamra: Ghost Town or a Crumbling Piece of History?

One look at the seclusion and crumbling walls across the main road tells us that we have arrived at the right place. It’s a couple of hours before dusk; we have some time to explore the  area before it eventually gets dark. We park our cars right in front of a fort that watches over narrow alleys and abandoned buildings in eerie silence.

A sister of mine knows some people from a photography club. It is through them that we came to know about this town. It’s a weekend, and not having any other plan, we decide on visiting this place for some photography fun.

The breeze is chilly. There is labor camp not so far away. We see a couple of men walk past us carrying firewood on their heads. When they left, there are only the eight of us remaining in the area. I look up; a few fluffy clouds are scattered on a very blue sky, and a few birds fly overhead. We pick up our cameras and start walking towards the quiet town.

This place is Jazirat al-Hamra, or the Red Island, located in Ras al Khaimah, one of the seven emirates that form the U.A.E. It is also known as the ghost town. The story goes that this town was haunted, which is the reason why it was abandoned, and has remained uninhabited and neglected since 1968.

The main paths meander through this village—passing by mosques, and houses with features like wooden doors, star windows, wind-towers, and courtyards—towards the sea. However, all of these structures lie in varying degrees of decay.

Occupied by the Za’ab tribe, this coastal village was created in the 14th century on a peninsula. They were also called Hadhr, which is the local name for coastal Bedouins, whose livelihood depended mainly on pearling.

The 1930s economic crises saw the decline of the natural pearl industry. Few years later, this town was deserted when the inhabitants moved out, attracted by the prospect of better living conditions offered by the local government. People left behind their houses, mosques and shops, creating what now is an undisturbed picture of life before the exploitation of oil.

It is said that the house shown above belonged to a very wealthy merchant. I have not walked past the house to see the other side, but I heard that there is a huge courtyard in front of the house. The mud-and-brick wind towers were designed to funnel even the slightest breeze off the Gulf into the house.

But what I find really interesting while roaming around the deserted town is how corals and sea shells were incorporated with stone and mud to create the walls. Most of the houses were built from coral rag, the roofs were constructed from palm trunks. The walls of the oldest buildings have larger pieces of coral, while the younger once were built from bricks of crushed coral.

This town is so famous for being haunted that different people have different stories to tell. A nephew of mine—very charming and naughty—said that he once came to this town with some of his friends. They drove into the town and decided to stop in front of a big house. Some of them started to smoke cigarettes and chat. Few minutes later, they looked down and noticed that there were actually graves right at that spot!

We walk around town but do not find any graves.

A few journalists even decided to spend the night here hoping to encounter whatever is rumored to be living in these decaying structures. Although incomplete, their ‘live’ update was featured here.

This is the courtyard that I find the most impressive. We stand there for a few minutes trying to imagine how lively this place must have been years ago. As you can see, the pillars look like they will come apart anything soon. Someone had a recent bonfire around here, the soot scattered right at the center of the courtyard.

Do we ‘feel’ anything at all? No. My sister even remarks that the town has no fear factor at all. We comfortably pass through the alleys, stopping in front of houses to take pictures. Once, I enter the fort to take pictures from inside, but there is this uncomfortable feeling—like I’m trespassing or something—so I decide not to enter any other building.

Photographers frequent this place. One can spend hours roaming about, taking countless pictures. This is also a favorite amongst fashion photographers.

We quickly walk back towards our cars when the sun begins to set into the horizon. Although we do not encounter anything spooky, it is believed by a lot of people that there are jinns who live here, and they usually come out at nightfall. We are not interested to meet them, so we leave.

Jazirat al-Hamra may be a ghost town to many, but for me it is an amazing piece of history. It is also the last authentic and traditional town still standing in the U.A.E., and if the government does not do anything to preserve it soon, it is going to perish forever. Some say that this place is off-limits, but I do not see a sign anywhere.

How to get here:

We took the Emirates Road (E311) and drove straight until we approached a roundabout. Take left (the sign says ‘Umm al-Quwain’). After some time, you will see the Ice Land water park on your right. Keep driving until you see some whale statues on your left. Take right and drive straight until you see the town on your right.

You can also read this account about Ras al Aisha al Shareef, whose ancestors once lived in this very town.

46 comments

  1. Loved the history bits! And it was very interesting to learn about corals being incorporated in the walls.It shows the culture and art of the people who lived there.Wonderful pics really! Liked the pic of the door.Don’t know why.And I’m glad nothing spooky happened while you guys were there 🙂

    So a place that’s left empty for years can become alive with ghosts? Hhmm…I thought only avenging and unfulfilled spirits linger around? No…

    1. Thank you, Lat! I really like that door picture myself. I think it portrays the mood of the place. Yep, nothing spooky happened, alhumdulillah.

      I don’t believe in ghosts or spirits, Lat. But jinn, yeah. So there was this tiny bit of worry that if some jinn resided there, they may not like our intrusion into their quiet place 🙂

  2. Ras Al Khaima is full of spooky stuff 😀 there’s a cave there from which strange noises come at night (probably some wind effect) that is attributed to jinns too – it became quite famous some time ago.

    Loved the pictures – I would have said ruins and kept on going, but you guys managed to get some lovely photos out of those. The part about the coral in the walls was quite interesting.

    Am glad no aatma met you guys!

    1. You are right, Mezba. I heard there’s a haunted palace too! RAK is one spooky emirate 😀

      Yep, the incorporation of corals into their walls is pretty interesting. I don’t have a macro lens, else I would’ve spent an hour photographing the shells and their textures.

      Aatma probably thought we weren’t worth meeting with 😀

      1. haha ! sure thing! if only my family could sponsor my trip I would have jumped right there and brought you containers of crispy corns…. I just need an excuse for travelling 😀

        1. It’s a free software you can download called photoscape. It’s the only post-processing tool I use, mainly because of its simplicity. Just a couple of clicks and I’m done.

  3. Wow, this place looks fascinating Nadia! The pictures you took “captured” the mysterious air of the place perfectly. I agree that the UAE government should do something to preserve this heritage….

  4. While all the photos are great, the picture of the door is outstanding. It was really interesting to see the structure of the coral building material. It is nice that the town will be preserved in your photos. Wish I could go see it though.

    1. Thank you, Sheryl! There were so many sea shells and corals all over the place that it makes one worry that the people who once lived there might have used up all from this part of the ocean 😀

  5. I very much want to see a ghost town (like I read on Stephen King’s “You Know They Got A Hell of A Band). But these photos make me think of an Iraqi city where battle took place. 😐 Being honest.

  6. hello, ms. nadia.

    i really like the way you tell the story of the places you visit. you highlight the views without disturbing them. you take us with you through your pictures.

    we’re lucky that you’ve lived in our country some years back. 😀
    keep taking pics and sharing with us your wonderful narratives.

    1. Thank you so much, dpsa 🙂

      Oh, there are so many places in the Philippines that are famous for being ‘spooky’. Too bad I didn’t own a camera or a blog back then to document my adventures there.

      It’s been 5 years.

  7. Loved the history part to it!
    Fascinating stuff! Even though its all in ruins there is something really beautiful about it.
    Love the courtyard picture, 😀

    1. Thanks, Smiley!

      There’s always something fascinating about ruins with so much history hidden behind them, more so if this history isn’t clearly documented. That way, there remains some mystery too 🙂

    1. Harebeat, in Islam we believe that just like us humans, jinns are also categorized as good and bad. And we definitely didn’t want ourselves bumping into the bad ones 😀

      I don’t know if earlier photographs were ever documented.

    1. The ghost busting journalists didn’t update that article, but since they are still reporting with the same paper, I have a feeling they’re pretty much safe 🙂

      Yeah, they should’ve updated the readers on what happened there. Or perhaps nothing has happened at all that’s why there was no ending to that article 😀

  8. kasam se humlog kal gaye they raat ko 12 bajy laikin astaghfirullah kya kya scean howai humlogo k sath allah maaf kary shukar hai bachgaye . mai yeh bolna chata hoon ager koi eidher jana chata hai toh suba jao aur ager raat ko jana hai toh kisi cheez ko chairo mat kuta ho bili ho jo bhi ho mager us ko tang mat karna …

  9. I was just looking for some information about this Ghost Town as i saw this name on a Movie Djinn and found your blog. Quite interesting post i like they way you portrayed the atmosphere through your camera lenses.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge