The Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival opened its gates in Al Wathba last week, showcasing a range of exhibitions, foods and cultural performances from around the world. There are 18 different cultural districts, including nationally themed offerings from the UAE, Bahrain, Serbia, India and China, and each houses traditional souvenirs and handicrafts. Most of the merchandise is affordable and great value for money, but it doesn’t hurt to haggle. Here are Hafsa Lodi’s favourite pieces from her visit to the festival.
• The Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival runs daily from 4pm to 10pm until January 1 in Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi. Entry is free.
1. Trinkets box from Egypt
Handmade by artisans in Egypt, this wooden box is adorned with tiny sewing supplies, such as a spool of thread and miniature scissors. But you don’t have to be a seamstress to find a place for this quaint creation in your home. Colourful and eclectic, it’s a great size for chocolates or knick-knacks and can brighten up your living room. Alternatively, use it as a jewellery box on your dressing table.
• Dh140, Egypt
2. Slippers from Morocco
Thanks to high-end fashion heavyweights such as Gucci, the slipper-shoe style is currently in the spotlight. Opt for a culturally rooted take on the trend with these decadent yet completely comfortable designs from Morocco. They can elevate a basic jeans-and-T-shirt outfit, add further pizzazz to a leather skirt, and can even be worn as house slippers. The shoes are handmade, featuring leather soles with gold and silver metallic textiles, are unisex and available in a range of different sizes.
• Dh100, Morocco
3. Woven tray from the UAE
Handwoven and decorated with vibrant printed fabrics, this oversized tray makes a great UAE souvenir. Traditionally used for family-style meals on the floor, it can hold main dishes such as rice and meat or it can be placed on top of your coffee table during a tea party. They’re flexible, easily storable and available in a range of different colours, mostly with floral prints. You can even buy matching teacups and teapots to make a complete set.
• Dh100, UAE
4. Clay vases from the UAE
Made locally in Al Ain, these clay pots feature striking cut-outs and are adorned with pearls and coloured crystals. While some appear quite traditional in design, others, such as the ones decorated with whimsical palm trees, will fit more-contemporary decor themes. Fill them with bamboo and display these on your porch, in your garden or inside your home.
• Dh150, UAE
5. Embellished coffee pots from the UAE
While painted coffee pots showcasing romantic floral motifs are quite popular at the festival, others feature designs that are more unique. These white and mint-green-coloured designs, for instance, appear to be wearing traditional Arabic gold jewellery – from pearl-laden pendants to chunky, jewel-encrusted chokers. If you’re planning a ladies’ night in, these will perfectly suit the occasion.
• Dh150, UAE
6. Beaded necklaces with Arabic calligraphy charms from Oman
No heritage festival is complete without jewellery, and the Arab countries all have some beautiful designs on offer. These particular necklaces from Oman caught our eye, with their colourful, oversized pendants showcasing popular Arabic and Islamic sentiments. The silver version reads “God is great”, while the gold bird reads “Praise be to God”. The necklaces also bear resemblances to traditional prayer beads.
• Dh50, Oman
7. Serving dishes from Kuwait
If you’re the type of host or hostess who likes to throw lavish garden parties, complete with a buffet-style presentation, you may fancy these ornate trunks, designed to hold trays of food. Crafted from wood and lined with steel, they’re available in a variety of bright colours, as well as softer pastels and white. Holes on either side allow candles to be placed beneath the basins to ensure the food is kept warm.
• Dh700, Kuwait
8. Handmade doll baskets from Saudi Arabia
In an exemplary display of culture-inspired craftsmanship, these handmade dolls sewed by a Riyadh-based artisan Nafla Salem are destined to be best-sellers. Taking the forms of male and female figures robed in traditional attire, the dolls are complete with faces, cute googly eyes, and even headwear and jewellery. They stand in trays with baskets, making them decorative as well as practical purchases.
• Dh150, Saudi Arabia
9. Acrylic coasters from Bahrain
Contemporary pop-art influences are highlighted at this Bahrain stall, which sells cushions, tea cosies, trays and stationery, along with these acrylic coasters. With a range of colourful designs to choose from, be creative by mixing and matching different motifs – a teapot, burqa, gold jewellery and henna to make your own custom set – or buy them with a matching cushion to make a unique housewarming gift.
• Dh15 each, Bahrain
10. Embellished coat from Afghanistan
While the Afghanistan sector is cluttered with generic leather goods and wooden carvings, the country’s traditional dresses are available, too. This robe, or overcoat, is adorned with hundreds of copper-coin charms, and the seller estimates its weight at about 10 kilograms. It’s called a chapan, and inspired by the ancient wardrobes of the rulers. The coat may weigh a ton, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to stand out wherever you wear it.
• Dh1,500, Afghanistan