The evidences and conclusions about lives of people and counties that existed many centuries ago are to a great extent based on the disputable and not numerous archeological findings and further scholarly assumptions. Hence, the amount of excavations is a crucial factor to predetermine the reliable conclusions about various historical periods. Out of seven emirates, one can mark the territory of Ras al-Khaimah as one of the most investigated and well-discovered. The excavations of the South East of Arabia have provided scholars and archeologists with numerous findings that tell much about life on this territory in the 13-16th centuries. This paper will trace the development of Julfar from a small fishing community into an urbanized settlement and its decline. These steps let one regard Julfar territory as the most investigated and significant to characterize the social and economic aspects of the Emirati life during the Sassanian period.
The history of the Arabian Gulf presented a number of different civilizations and interesting findings. Hafit tombs, Umm Al-Nar, Wadi Suq, Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, Mleiha Age, Ed-Dur period, Pre-Islamic Era and a great amount of other notions are the first to be associated with the information about the UAE before the 13th century (Al Abed, Hellyer, & Vine, 2006). As in many other societies, decentralization of the fishing communities was common for the early inhabitants of the Persian Gulf. The findings of the fish bone assemblages, requiem sharks, terapons, threadfin bream, mojarras and bronze fish hooks are the evidences that the well-known coastal port of Julfar was not an exception from these rules (Beech, 2003). However, with the introduction of Islam, the Arabian world becomes distinguished with a new town Julfar that has become the staging post to conquer Iran in 637 AD and the entry point for Abbasid invasion of Oman (Al Abed et al., 2006). Julfar was mentioned in documents of the 10th-12th centuries as a place of considerable importance for being a pearling center and a great port that supported Emirati trade with Kenya, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and China (Al Abed et al., 2006). In his article “On the Eve of Islam”, Kennet (2003) marked Kush and Julfar as the origin of a number of the early Islamic sources that stayed under Sasanian control. Such medieval sources included al-Muqdasi of the 10th century and al-Idrisi of the 12th century. In the beginning of the 13th century, the geographer Yaqut named Julfar “a fertile town” (Al Abed et al., 2006). In their work, Piacentini and Maestri (2009) drew the strong connection between the rise of Julfar in the period of the “mercantile maritime order” and the beginning of new era connected with the fall of Constantinople and Mongol II-Khans’ ruling. Traditional politics of the assertive Arabian tribal groups was obviously reformulated and centralized. Finally, by the 14th and 15th century, this port has become the essential point of the domestic trade route inhabited with the great navigators like Ibn Majid as the most outstanding one and many Portuguese and Italian travellers.
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Julfar has been always associated with the archeological site of Kush. The environmental peculiarities and geographical position are the essential factors that predetermined the economical and architectural features in the Kush area since the early times. For instance, the mud-brick architecture instead of date-palm-frond buildings that were common for the Oman Peninsular made Kush settlements significant for the studies of UAE (Ishida, Parker, Kennet, & Hodson, 2003). In addition, some findings that prove re-occupation and various changes in the life of Tel Abraq inhabitants in the 12th century suggested the idea that they gradually moved to the rural settlement Julfar al-Mataf closer to the sea till the 13th century (Ishida et al., 2003). The presence of plains and lagoons on the territory of al-Mataf was the basic factor that let the town get the agricultural economy direction from the very beginning of its foundation. The alluvial plains separate the Ru’us al-Jibal mountains from the coast exactly on the territory of Jufar (Velde, 2012). Therefore, one third of the rainwater is collected from the mountains. At the same time, the unique geographic position enables the palm growth on the western side of Wadi al-Bih fan (Velde, 2012). Two large lagoons were the protection from the sea encroachment or other disasters. As a result, “a settlement inside palm gardens” not only got a substantial amount of the exploitable water, but also provided a natural shelter for ships and the real oasis settlement.
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Since the Middle Bronze Age, Shimal has been the core of the later Julfar. It consisted of the palm gardens with the administrative center that already served as a part of a port. At the same time, one can see that Kush site has been a commercial and administrative center since the 4th century (Velde, 2012). Till the 8th century, the history of the settlement was marked by the new defense system. The harbor of Julfar was guarded with the help of a tower and surrounding moat. Therefore, not only the maritime trade, but also the conquering actions were common in the area. The further development of the town could be observed in the 10th century with the considerable growth of population and extension of the city boundaries. The real Julfar borders were formed till the 11th century (Velde, 2012). Though there exist no definite evidences of when the town wall Wadi Sur was built, the excavations show that it happened before the 12th century, and it is considered as a remarkable landmark till nowadays. A 3.5 meter-wide and 2.5 meter-deep ditch cut around the wall is the evidence of the defense achievements in that period (Velde, 2012). Additionally, the “Queen of Sheba’s Palace” is another landmark that deserves special attention to perceive Julfar as the administrative center of Kush area.
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Julfar stays in the focus of Emirati studies not only for being a well-known port in the Arabian Gulf, but also as a great example of true urbanism in Arabia. This town was situated on the territory of modern Ras al-Khaimah. A great number of evidences provide a coherent picture of the development of this site from a ﬁshing community to an urbanized settlement from the 13th-15th centuries (Kennet, 2003). The merchants’ line called Tibis’ contributed to the urbanization of the coastal regions of the peninsula. The other merchants, who represented the confrontation with this line, were Qays and Hormuz. After disintegration of the Il-Khanid power, the situation has changed and Tibis lost their military support. As a result, in the beginning of the 15th century, Hormuz has become “a corner-stone of the new Persian system” (Piacentini & Maestri, 2009). The unity of the kingdom was guaranteed by the ruler (Malik). Mainly, the reign of Salghur Shah is considered as a peak of Hormuz’ power. In this period, many eyewitnesses described the coastal Eastern Arabia as “a glamorous world” with “active and enterprising people in colorful costumes” (Piacentini & Maestri, 2009). The splendor places and markets made the places special and distinguishing in comparison to the previous eras. At this time, Julfar’s development was obviously linked to “the expanding mercantile economy of Hormuz” (Kennet, 2003). The main reason for that was obviously its location on Musandam peninsula, which is very close to the Strait of Hormuz. Some scholars even called Julfar “a part of Hormuz kingdom” (Velde, 2012). However, the local market structure, as well as social and economic peculiarities, separated this town from others.
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Calling Julfar a “trading emporium linked to Hormuz”, Kennet (2003) distinguished several excavation projects that were important to show the sequence of its development. At the same time, the commercial center of this period moved from the previous territory of Julfar to al-Mataf, which situated 2 kilometers from the oasis edge. Apart from pearls, the goods that Julfar as a fertile land provided to Hormuz Island were horses, water, food and soldiers. Hence, one can see the change of the subsistence-based agricultural economy to cash- or market-based one (Kennet, 2003). The growth of al-Mataf was closely connected with the maximum limit of the land exploitation, and was a real turning point in the history of the Kush area. Being dependent on food production and supply, Julfar urbanization was tightly interconnected with “Hormuzi boom” that was accompanied with the significant increase in the gulf sites (Kennet, 2003). Trade and cash were the integral parts of the local economy and predetermined the development of resource ownership implications. In fact, urbanization was closely interconnected with the economic stability of the area. Till the end of the 16t century, the Julfar oasis settlement extended over 15 square kilometers, and its population grew up to 10,000–15,000 inhabitants (Velde, 2012).
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All the ancient towns disappear from maps sooner or later. The decline of Julfar started with the decline of its name. Although al-Mataf has ceased to exist as a commercial center in 250 years, Julfar still existed when its center has shifted to the south-western lagoon and the settlement known as Ra’s al-Khaimah (Velde, 2012). With the shift of the settlement core far from the original one, two distinct entities were developing. By the end of the 16th century, the Italian sources started using the name of Ra’s al-Khaimah instead of Julfar (Velde, 2012). However, the settlement continued its existence under another name. Finally, the collapse of the town wall by the 18th century and the fact that the name was no longer used in any written documents is considered as complete Julfar decline.
During the latest centuries, Julfar has become one of the most investigated territories of the UAE. Hence, the great historical importance of Julfar is based on a great amount of excavations, and not simply on the assumptions. Located in the Kush area on the territory of the modern Ras al-Khaimah, this town has developed from the agricultural into the trade one during the period of the “Hormuzi boom” in the 15th– 26th centuries. As a good example of the Arabian urbanization, the research of this town development and decline provides profound knowledge about the first stages of the big cities’ development in the UAE.
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