The bustling capital, which dates back to the third millennium BC, started out with nomadic herding and fishing as its local industry. However, in 1958 oil was first discovered and the Emirate began a new era with a few low-rise buildings being built. Prior to this, most homes were constructed from palm fronds or were in the form of mud huts. In 1966, when the former ruler Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Nahyan took over the Emirate, Abu Dhabi really began to flourish.
Today Abu Dhabi may still be famous for its ubiquitous oil reserves, but it also boasts lots of fascinating architecture, which is far removed from the previous modest abodes.
In place of homes made from palm fronds are innovative skyscrapers and luxurious villas. Meanwhile, you can find the Emirates Palace Hotel commandeering the shoreline. A firm favourite with celebrities and VIPs, the five star hotel is decorated to represent Arabian regal splendour in its finest form. However, there are soon to be other exciting landmarks arriving in Abu Dhabi. Recently it was announced that Abu Dhabi is in the process of having a Guggenheim Museum constructed and, while the Louvre has always been synonymous with Paris, in 2012 Abu Dhabi will be home to its very own Louvre. In 2009, Abu Dhabi also hosted the first ever day/night Formula 1 Grand Prix at the Yas Marina circuit. The Grand Prix was a huge success and the event will again be held in December 2010.
Although the city has lots of new offerings, like many of the other Emirates old and new blend together harmoniously, with the centre of Abu Dhabi offering traditional souqs along with colossal shopping malls such as the shopper’s paradises, the Abu Dhabi Mall and the Marina Mall.
While the centre of Abu Dhabi has copious shopping opportunities and lots to offer, the outskirts of the city centre are equally intriguing. On the road heading into Abu Dhabi from Dubai is the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque. Named after the former president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, it is considered to be the most imposing religious and national landmark built so far in Abu Dhabi. Locally known as the Grand Mosque, it is unique in many ways. Perhaps one of the reasons that it is so unique is that the designers, features and the materials all come from different corners of the earth including Iran, Italy, India, Morocco, Germany, Turkey, and of course, the UAE creating a global masterpiece.
For anyone wanting to visit the mosque it is open to visitors between 9 am and 11.30 am, Sunday to Thursday. Features of the mosque include its 1,096 columns that are on the outside of the building and its 96 columns that are constructed inside the main prayer hall, which has over 20,000 handmade marble panels encrusted with semi-precious stones. The stones include amethyst, red agate and mother of pearl to name a few. However, while the columns are amazing, the main prayer hall makes visiting the mosque a must as it features the world’s largest handwoven Persian carpet at a size of a mammoth 7,119 square metres.
While Abu Dhabi, which is ruled by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is evolving, much of its charm remains. The beautiful Liwa oasis, which is a two-hour drive from the centre of Abu Dhabi, provides visitors with some of the most beautiful sand dunes in the world. For explorers, this frontier leads to what is known as the Empty Quarter (Rub Al- Khali), a large area of desert that travels through Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Another area of Abu Dhabi, which is as stunning as ever, is the garden city of Al Ain. Located near the border with Oman, Al Ain has lush green parks and tree-lined avenues.