Al Fujairah

The Fujairah Fort
The Fujairah Mountains
Traditional bull-butting contests

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Al Fujairah

Bullfighting and steep mountains

The largest settlement on the United Arab Emirates’ east coast, Fujairah (or “Fujairah city” – where your MSC cruise ship awaits your return – as it’s often described to distinguish it from the eponymous emirate) has recently enjoyed something of a minor boom, mainly on the back of economic developments in neighbouring emirates, especially Dubai.

The focus of much of this is the city’s massive oil-refuelling port – the world’s third largest after Singapore and Rotterdam – at the southern end of town, which is where most of the UAE’s oil is exported from, as its east coast location saves shipping from making a two-day dog-leg around the tip of the Arabian peninsula. MSC  Dubai, Abu Dhabi & India also offer excursions to the main sight in town: the photogenic Fujairah Fort (not currently open to the public), off Madhab Road on the northern edge of the city centre.

Dating back to the sixteenth century, this is the most picture-perfect of the UAE’s many forts, set atop a large plinth and with high, bare walls rising to a pretty cluster of towers and battlements, dramatically framed by an outcrop of the Hajar Mountains. Immediately south of the fort, the rather pedestrian Fujairah Museum houses a run-of-the-mill collection of local weaponry, jewellery and archaeological displays. A Fujairah peculiarity is the town’s traditional bull-butting contests (mnattah in Arabic).

This sport is said to have been introduced to the Gulf by the Portuguese sometime during the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries; unlike Spanish bullfighting, the bulls fight one another, rather than a matador. And although there’s plenty of bovine testosterone floating around, no blood is spilled – although spectators occasionally have to dash for cover if one of the bulls decides to make a run for it.

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    United Arab Emirates

    Diamonds shining in the desert
    Diamonds shining in the desert

    Dubai is actually just one of the seven statelets which collectively form the United Arab Emirates, or UAE, a loose confederation founded in 1971 following the departure of the British from the Gulf.

    Technically the seven emirates are considered equal, and preserve a considerable measure of legislative autonomy, rather like the various states of the USA – which explains, for instance, why local laws in Dubai are so different from those in neighbouring Sharjah.

    In practice, however, as a cruise to the Emirates can show you, a clear pecking order applies. Abu Dhabi, easily the largest and wealthiest of the emirates, serves as the capital (even if Abu Dhabi city is barely half the size of Dubai) and wields the greatest influence over national policy, as well as providing the UAE with its president.

    Dubai ranks second, followed by Sharjah and then the other emirates of Umm al Quwain, Ras al Khaimah, Ajman and Fujairah, which remain relatively undeveloped and even surprisingly impoverished in places.

    The fact that the union has survived despite the sometimes considerable differences of opinion between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is a glowing tribute to local diplomacy, even though it is has also created the anomaly whereby Dubai, with its headline international standing, isn’t even the capital of its own low-key country.