In Pictures: The Stunning Transformation of the UAE

| © Abu Dhabi Sunshine - Life in the UAE - 70s 80s 90s / Facebook
Siobhan Ali

We explore the UAE’s development from a desert oasis to a metropolitan hub through the eyes of those people who witnessed it firsthand.

Just over 50 years ago, the United Arab Emirates, a collection of seven states, had an economy that was mostly reliant on pearl diving and fishing. The discovery and exportation of oil in the 1960s brought a new era of trade and completely revolutionised the nation. With a booming economy, the UAE was able to fund a period of rapid development and, over the last 50 years, the landscape has become overrun with towering skyscrapers.

This image of the Al Maqta Watch Tower and Crossing dates back to March 1950. It’s said that you had to wait for the tide to go out in order to cross to the mainland, and journeying from Abu Dhabi to Dubai took four hours, over double today’s travel time.

This picture depicts the process of reclaiming land from the sea along the Al Ras Waterfront, Dubai, in 1965 and immortalises the expansion of the city that took place as new land was created. This later became part of Dubai’s Waterfront project, which was planned to be the largest waterfront and manmade development in the world.

Taken in early 1968, these images were captured after the completion of a mosque in Abu Dhabi. Compare this to the iconic Sheikh Zayed Mosque, which debuted in 2007 after 11 years of construction, and is now the city’s main attraction.

Captured in 1979, this picture shows the Abu Dhabi bus station and fish market. The market is still popular today, not only among locals, but also with tourists, who get to see a glimpse of what life was like in the old city. Many tourists visit the market to get a flavour of the local catch; you can even buy fish here that has been cooked using traditional recipes.

The first two images show the beginnings of Le Méridien Hotel Abu Dhabi back in 1979. Compare them to the more recent photos to see just how far the city has come. Abu Dhabi is now home to some of the most famous hotels in the world, such as Emirates Palace, which was formerly the world’s most expensive hotel, or the St Regis Abu Dhabi, which boasts the world’s highest hotel suite. Redefining the concept of luxury and leisure, UAE’s capital strives to be a leading destination for travellers, offering exclusive experiences and palatial accommodation.

The iconic Abu Dhabi Corniche, which was used as a port prior to the 1970s, has for decades been a popular meeting spot for residents. With parks, cycle paths, malls, fountains and hotels such as the stunning Emirates Palace, the area is a hub of leisure. The pictures here show it in 1979 and more recently in 2013. In the second picture, you can see the rapid development Abu Dhabi has undergone and the replacement of smaller buildings by towering skyscrapers.

This 1990 snapshot of Sheikh Zayed Road (also known as E11) captures the longest road in the UAE, which runs from Abu Dhabi to Ras Al Khaimah. The second image, taken only 17 years later, shows the extensive development that the city has undergone since then.

landscape with balloons floating in the air

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