The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) has inaugurated the Sir Bani Yas Island Visitor Centre. The centre will serve as a cultural resource for both local and international tourists to learn more about the historic landscape of Sir Bani Yas Island.
The new centre features interactive displays that guests can explore after touring the church and monastery site, helping them to visualise the history of Sir Bani Yas. A curated selection of objects from various locations on the island, spanning different time periods, are also showcased in the centre, each accompanied by an interactive tablet with further information.
Following DCT Abu Dhabi’s conservation efforts, in 2019 the Sir Bani Yas Church and Monastery site reopened to the public with enhanced facilities and informative panels to guide visitors. Today, with the launch of the visitor centre, the site will provide a definitive account of the island’s natural and cultural history.
HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi said, “The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi is committed to safeguarding and promoting the UAE’s cultural heritage. The new Sir Bani Yas Visitor Centre will provide residents and international guests with the opportunity to explore the rich and fascinating history of Sir Bani Yas in greater detail and help them view the island through the eyes of our Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed.”
The cultural heritage sites of Sir Bani Yas are not limited to the church and monastery; the island is also home to sites that date back to the Neolithic period (Late Stone Age). Sir Bani Yas has served as an important natural resource and shelter for fishermen and seafarers for around 8,000 years. With its mineral-rich geology, abundant fresh water, and safe harbours full of fish, there was plenty of reason for the regional population to pass through the island or even settle on its shoreline. The continuity of habitation is well represented through the existence of archaeological remains from various time periods on the island.
The Dilmun Merchant’s site, which dates to around 1800 BCE, demonstrates the importance of Sir Bani Yas Island in the wider trade network during the Bronze Age. The courtyard houses (7th – 8th century), which are contemporary with the church, show us established settlement on the island, in a wider community network. During the Late Islamic period (16th-19th century CE) the island continued to be on local and regional seafarers’ routes. Italian merchant and jeweller Gasparo Balbi mentions “Sirbeniast” in his travel records in 1590, making a note of the ‘Banu Yas’ people who inhabited the island in the winter months.
Under the late Sheikh Zayed’s leadership, the island was declared a nature reserve and was converted into a sanctuary for endangered animal species. Sheikh Zayed’s buildings on the island are marked as important Modern Heritage sites and are safeguarded by DCT Abu Dhabi. These sites and buildings are also showcased in the Visitor Centre, as they are key to understanding the significance of Sir Bani Yas to the late Founding Father.
The Sir Bani Yas Visitor Centre is open to the public from 10 am to 6 pm Saturdays to Thursdays, and from 2 pm to 6 pm on Fridays. Entrance to the centre is free of charge.