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Intelligent, courageous, loyal and high spirited — the Arabian horse has been treasured by the nomadic Bedouins for centuries. And as a much-admired symbol of endurance, it was not surprising to have found a museum dedicated to the breed in the historical Al Shindagha district of Dubai.
The Horse Museum is housed in the former home of the late Shaikha Moza Bint Saeed Al Maktoum. Built in the 1940s, the house was refurbished and opened to the public in 2008, says Rashad Mohammad Bukhash, Director of the Architectural Heritage Department, Dubai Municipality, as part of the organisation’s efforts to restore the Dubai Creek area.
Passionate about preserving Emirati history, Bukhash, who is also Chairman of the UAE Architectural Society, tells PW that the museum charts the history of the magnificent Arabian stallion, its symbolic importance for the people and significance in Arabic literature. It is doing all of this with the help of information sheets, anatomical models and video clips, attracting tourists and groups from local schools and universities regularly.
“We want to raise awareness about the projects going on in the Dubai Creek area and are slowly achieving that,” says Bukhash.
The Dubai Culture and Arts Authority took over responsibility of the museum in January last year. Guided tours are available and group bookings can be arranged in advance.
A doorway leads to a central courtyard flanked by 13 rooms, one of which is on the second level. Although not compulsory, there’s a progressive order to viewing each room. A clean, camphor-like scent greets visitors into the first room that is dedicated to the movement of horses around the world. A colourful Arabian saddle with tassels and embroidery (pictured left) takes centre stage and it is here that you read about how horses were moved from the region to other parts of the world as part of trade and war.
Descriptions of one of the world’s oldest breeds, which originated some 7,000 years ago, are provided in Arabic and English. Television commentaries expand on how and why the Bedouins kept the bloodlines of their animals pure through selective breeding, resulting in a hardy strain with unique physical features and character that lend them great respect.
The pure Arabian stallion thrives in deserts, eats far less than other breeds, has a strong short back, long neck and a refined head. It’s interesting to learn that even the white mark on a horse’s forehead is significant enough to be given it a different name according to its size. If the mark is the size of a spot it is called al qazha; if bigger, then ghorah, and if it is spread on the face away from the eyes, it is known as shadekhah.
In the other rooms there are sectioned models showing the horse’s physiology, a display and commentary about horse racing in the UAE and information about the Goldolphin Stables of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
The section devoted to the horse in Arabic literature has works from poets and writers such as Amr Bin Abi Rabeeah, who writes an apology to his horse after exhausting him in a voyage.
One of the most spectacular features is a dramatic statue of a Bedouin brandishing a sword and riding a stallion into battle, surrounded by hundreds of horsemen built as a three-dimensional relief seemingly leaping out of the side walls to support him. Another stunning piece of artwork depicting three distinctive Arabian horse heads with wildly flowing manes looking down upon the courtyard from an outer wall celebrates just how revered it is.
The Horse Museum is open from Sunday to Thursday from 8am-2pm. Entrance is free.
Source: Cheryl Robertson, Special to Property Weekly
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