People who tended the date palm gardens and irrigation systems lived in the shady oasis of Ras Al Khaimah’s coastline during the scorching summer months. Most of the workers lived in mudbrick buildings and palm houses known as areesh. Only sheikhs and more affluent families built their summer houses from stone. Very few of these houses have survived, apart from two that remain in Shamil and offer exciting insights into past traditions.
Wadi Bih is one of Ras Al Khaimah’s most impressive natural features. The dramatic steep valleys in the mountains have eroded from millions of years of flooding during the winter rains. A fertile green belt of date palm gardens surrounds a vast gravel fan almost 20 kilometres wide, forming at the outlet of the wadi. The garden feeds from rain-rich grounds. The Shimal gardens have, for centuries, served as an important source of food and water for the summer residents.
The two old summer houses once stood within the date palm gardens in Shimal were built from wadi stones and mortar. Each home has windows and windcatchers, or barjeel, a sophisticated open slat system that provides ventilation and a cooling breeze from the shady gardens. The barjeel is on the southern wall of each house, whilst the windows are on the north wall. The unique design prevents the sun from entering the inner rooms, thus retaining cool interiors.
Each building has a different layout. The first house has a large rectangular floor plan with an entrance enhanced by steps, a door designed with saw-tooth frames, and a beautiful central rosette carved above other intricate details. The house has a bathroom, or hammam, within the eastern section of the interior. The second house has an entrance also accessible by several steps, but there is no decorative detail around the door. Whilst the exteriors remain simple, internally, the house has many niches for display and storage within each wall. The second house is smaller, with a hamman added to the southeast rear of the house.