History of Al Ain

Al Ain, historically known as the Buraimi Oasis, has been continuously inhabited for more than four thousand years and is considered central to the cultural heritage of the country. It is the birthplace of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the United Arab Emirates. Today the name Buraimi refers to the Omani town whose urban area merges with that of Al Ain. There are numerous underground water springs in the area, which explain its attractiveness as an area of settlement. Traces of its traditional past remain, including camel racing and breeding. The ancient falaj system of irrigation is still in use in some areas distributing underground water by a network of tunnels emerging eventually into open channels whose flow can be directed and regulated.

The prime location of Al Ain meant that this oasis town was the source of a longstanding dispute between the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia. In the 20th century, the disputes were fuelled by the prospect of oil reserves in the area and, in 1952, Saudi Arabia actually occupied part of Buraimi. It was only in 1974 that Saudi Arabia finally dropped its claim to the area. In more recent times, the city has become a major centre of academic and medical excellence, and a popular destination for both international and regional tourists.

The availability of water from seven oases in the vicinity attracted farming, livestock rearing and hunting communities to establish permanent settlements. Likewise, it made the area an important stopping point on the caravan routes used by nomadic traders travelling to and from Oman. While Al Ain continued to thrive as an agricultural and trading centre, the focus of economic activity began to shift to other parts during the 20th century, with the growing importance of first pearl diving and then oil exploration.