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Moving to Abu Dhabi?
Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, is built on a T-shaped island that
juts out into the Persian Gulf. Although settled by nomads and fishermen in the
third millennium BC, the modern city did not begin to grow until the rise of the
Bani Yas tribal confederation in the 18th century. Well into the mid-20th century,
the city was sustained mainly by camel herding, date and vegetable farming, fishing
and pearl diving; most dwellings were built of palm fronds, while the wealthier
inhabitants lived in mud houses. It was not until 1958 that the first oil strikes
were made, and even then investors were wary: beyond completing the first paved
road in 1961, Sheikh Shakhbut Bin-Sultan Al Nahyan preferred to save the oil revenues,
expecting that they would quickly run out. His brother Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan
believed that oil wealth could transform the city: the ruling Al Nahyan family supported
him and in 1966 he replaced Shakhbut as Sheikh. Zayed pushed for the formation of
the United Arab Emirates and after the state gained independence from Britain in
1971 he used oil wealth to develop the country. As Abu Dhabi became the biggest
oil producer in the Emirates, mud huts were replaced with high rise luxury apartment
blocks, banks and boutiques. UAE now has one of the highest per capita incomes in
the world, and the inhabitants of the capital are the richest of them all, with
an average net worth of $17 million.
It might be an island city, but Abu Dhabi is nearly as hot as the surrounding desert.
Even in January, the coolest month of the year, the average daily temperature is
23º - in August it can soar as high as 48º. Between May and October there is no
rain whatsoever – an air-conditioned hotel is a must. Tourism is now almost as important
to the economy as fossil fuels: most visitors flock here to shop in the extensive
luxury malls and gawp at the skyscrapers. The architecture is very diverse: the
most expensive hotel in the world, the Emirates Palace, is found here, along with
the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority Tower, the 374m Sky Tower and the Sheik Zayed
Mosque. For those brave enough to spend time in the scorching outdoors, there are
twenty well-maintained public parks and over 10 km of coastline. Unlike in other
Arab states, western swimwear is permitted.
The diverse multicultural society offers other attractions for visitors. UAE is
home to several ethnic groups that have been persecuted elsewhere and Christian
churches, Sikh gurundawa and Hindu temples are found alongside mosques. The National
Theatre and the UAE Public Library and Cultural Centre are based in the capital
– both offer a wide away of performances. The Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre
is visited by 1.8 million people every year. Another major attraction is the Red
Bull Air Race World Series, held every year for many years along the waterfront.
Cuisine is as diverse as in any global tourist destination: Arab food such as couscous
and tagine is available everywhere; for a more authentic experience try eating in
one of the small shawarma. Alternatively, South Asian cuisine is very popular. Pork
is sold only to non-Muslims in designated areas. Although Abu Dhabi is a Muslim
city, it is possible to buy alcohol: in most cases a liquor permit is required but
this is not necessary in four and five star hotels!