sleek and shiny, it's hard to believe that the
sprawling city of Abu Dhabi was just a bleak fishing
and pearling village 40 years ago. Founded in
1761, Abu Dhabi became the home of the ruling
Al-Nahyan family when they moved from Liwa in
It became a moderately successful pearling centre
in the 19th century, but the collapse of the pearling
industry decimated the town and it sunk into squalor.
Oil concessions were granted in the 1930s in a
desperate bid to salvage the emirate.
oil revenue started pouring in thirty years later,
the reed and mud-brick huts were rapidly replaced
by banks and boutiques, and the settlement has
now spread to occupy virtually all of the T-shaped
Abu Dhabi island in the centre of the UAE's northern
Abu Dhabi is by far the richest and most politically
important of the UAE's seven emirates. Al-Husn
Palace, commonly known as the Old Fort or the
White Fort, is one of the few buildings in the
city over 30 years old.
original fort was built by the first ruler of the Al-Nahyan
dynasty, but this was replaced by the present structure
in the late 19th century. Now modernised and restored
and used as a document centre, its whitewashed walls
are still eye-catching amid the slick skyscrapers. The
courtyard and the tilework over the main gate are particularly
Next to the fort is the large, faceless Cultural Foundation,
which is much more interesting inside than its exterior
suggests. It's mainly used as a library, research and
documentation centre but often has exhibits on local
history, Islamic art and old manuscripts. There's also
a government-run Women's Craft Centre about 5 km south
of Abu Dhabi where traditional weavings and other crafts
are displayed and sold.
For a touch of local colour head to the north-east of
the city and check out the dhow wharf and fish market.
It's hardly comparable to Dubai's waterfront but there's
a decent amount of bustle, an excellent fish restaurant
and a good view of the city. The old souk on the city's
northern waterfront has a small gold market and lots
of houseware vendors, though it's slated to be replaced
by a modern market.