Jazirat Al Hamra - the ghost town of Ras Al Khaimah
The fascinating story behind the UAE’s spookiest village.Peter Iantorno May 14, 2015
Jazirat Al Hamra is unlike anywhere else you will find in the UAE today. A million miles away from Dubai and Abu Dhabi's gleaming high-rise towers, the former pearl-diving island has remained largely untouched since it was abandoned in mysterious circumstances back in 1968.
While hardly a trace of the modern world can be found in the town itself, the surrounding area has undergone a radical overhaul - including the filling-in of land either side of Al Hamra, which means it's no longer an island. What was once an autonomous town cut off from the mainland is now surrounded by modern amenities such as a water park, a golf course and even the luxurious Waldorf Astoria hotel - but despite modernity encroaching ever nearer, still the heart of Jazirat Al Hamra remains untouched.
Named after the red-hued sand it was built on, Jazirat Al Hamra - or the red island - was home mainly to members of the Zaabi tribe, but also housed men and women who came from far and wide, attracted by the thriving pearl diving business. While the men were away at sea during the summer, the women would look after the children, harvest dates from surrounding gardens and collect firewood for the winter. Everything in the town ran smoothly.
However, the days of the pearl business were numbered, and in the late 1920s and early 1930s when the Japanese started producing cultured pearls for a fraction of the price of the genuine hand-dived version, demand quickly dropped off and Al Hamra's economy was crushed. With little to no money coming in, the Ruler’s brother, Sheikh Mohammed bin Salim Al Qasimi, supported the town, investing in boatbuilding and agricultural tools in an attempt to reinvent Al Hamra's economy and get it back on its feet.
While this worked for a period, as soon as oil was discovered in the Gulf in the 1950s, everything changed. Suddenly, the town's men left en mass for years at a time, in search of high-paying jobs in the oil industry in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. With fewer and fewer residents there and those who chose to stay struggling to make a living, the town slowly started to empty out. By 1968, there was barely anyone left in the town, and those few who remained were offered housing in Abu Dhabi by Sheikh Zayed. While the official line is that the residents moved because of the superior quality of life available in Abu Dhabi, ever since the town was abandoned, spine-chilling tales have been rife that the real reason people left was because of powerful djinn (ghosts) residing in Jazirat Al Hamra.
The town has such a reputation for being a home to djinn that it has been the subject of many horror stories over the years, and it was even used as the set for 2013 horror Djinn, trailer below, directed by Tobe Hooper, whose previous films include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Poltergeist. The prospect of djinn residing in the the abandoned town is something that has caused quite a debate over the years, with some former residents claiming they don't exist, and some swearing they've experienced them first hand.
While we at EDGAR like to think of ourselves as highly rational and unaffected by childish ghost stories, you certainly won't catch us spending a night alone in Jazirat Al Hamra any time soon. Not that we're scared, of course - it's just that we're more luxury hotel kind of guys rather than spooky desert camping...
Images: Stuart Flisher