From a distance, Jazirat Al Hamra looks like the remnants of a war-ravaged town. The homes of those who once lived here are falling apart at the seams, ceilings are caving in under the weight of time and abandonment, and even the trees have been left to rot.
There’s no sign of life, except for the odd gecko and the birds that have made nests in any crevice they can find, and there’s a deathly silence about the place that’s enough to give even the hardiest of visitors a chill.
Abandoned buildings aren’t an uncommon sight in the UAE; investment for construction disappears as quickly as it comes, so derelict, half-finished hotels and apartment blocks are strewn all over the country. But this ghost town is a little different – this one has a history.
Jazirat Al Hamra was once a thriving fishing village on an island off the shores of Ras Al Khaimah, where in the 1830s most of the 200-strong population were involved in pearl fishing.
By the early twentieth century the value of pearls had plummeted after pearl farming was commercialised in Japan, and when Gulf oil was discovered in the 1950s and 60s, residents simply left their homes behind to seek better paying jobs in the UAE’s bigger cities.
Today it’s no longer an island – the land has been filled in and built upon – and Jazirat Al Hamra lies bare and broken, save for a few patches of grass and the occasional old shoe.
You can see open-front shops with empty shelves, courtyards where trees had once provided dappled shade for passers by, and a mosque with well-trodden carpets and an almost miraculously towering minaret.
© Lottie Gross
The village offers a fascinating glimpse into the old architectural styles and techniques employed in this area of the world. Many of the oldest buildings were constructed using crushed shells and whole pieces of coral, which can now be seen jutting out of the ruins.
Now the locals in Ras Al Khaimah believe the village is haunted: they speak in hushed tones of the djinn (human and animal spirits) that occupy the town after dark. There are tales of crying babies and bleating goats, and few people will go near the place until the sun has risen.
© Lottie Gross
There are some question marks over the future of Jazirat Al Hamra, but some efforts are now being made to preserve the finer buildings in the village. A beautiful, two storey home is slowly being restored to its former glory, and excavations are now underway to recover more beneath the rubble.
The hope is that the government will eventually restore the whole area and allow visitors to experience what life was like before oil changed everything in the UAE. But for now it remains a spooky and oddly beautiful sight, best explored at sunrise when the city is at its quietest – just watch out for the djinn.