A 1,400-year-old monastery that is the only known pre-Islamic Christian site in the United Arab Emirates has opened to visitors, The National newspaper reported on Sunday.

The monastery on Sir Bani Yas island in Abu Dhabi emirate is "believed to be the only permanent settlement ever established on the island" and "the only pre-Islamic Christian site known in the UAE," it said.

It is believed to have been built around 600 AD by a community of 30-40 monks and was discovered in 1992, said the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Development Company which is developing the island.

Dr Joseph Elders, the chief archaeologist for the Church of England, is leading the team excavating the site, the company said in a statement.

"Twenty years ago, we had no idea that Christians came this far south and east" in the Gulf region, The National quoted Elders as saying. "We don't have many monasteries from this period."

The people who lived at the monastery probably belonged to the "Nestorian Church, or Church of the East," it said, adding that the settlement was abandoned after about 750 AD.

It opened to the public on Saturday.

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