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Abu Dhabi History

While much of the city is new, Abu Dhabi (which translates as ‘Father of the Gazelle’) has roots that go much deeper. The first people to inhabit what would become the Emirati capital were probably nomadic tribesmen, although the earliest building, discovered in 2010, is a Nestorian church that dates from 600 CE.

The monks of Abu Dhabi appeared to have remained for several centuries, accruing mentions in 16th century European literature as well as by jeweller Gasparo Balbi who set off to India in 1579 in search of pearls.

Quite a lot of what happened to the monks of Abu Dhabi is unknown but what is certain is that the area was settled by the Bedouins of the Bani Yas tribe, the ancestors of today’s natives, in 1761.

Having initially settled in Liwa Oasis, the tribe, led by the Al-Nahyan family, moved into what would become Abu Dhabi to take advantage of the pearl trade.

A century later, with trade booming, ruler Sheikh Zayed bin Mohammed al-Nahyan (also known as Zayed the Great) signed a protection agreement with Britain and the city duly became one of the Trucial States.

While the protection agreement kept the citizens safe, it didn’t make them rich and at the dawn of the 20th century, Abu Dhabi was one of the poorest towns in the area – largely as a result of the Japanese discovery of how to make cultured pearls. But in 1958, its fate and fortunes changed forever as oil was unearthed in the desert.

But with oil came turbulence and in 1966, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan staged a coup against his ruling brother. In 1971 the United Arab Emirates was established and Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan became the UAE’s first president.

In November 2004, after his death, his oldest son Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan became the leader of Abu Dhabi and was later elected President of the United Arab Emirates.

Did you know?
• Abu Dhabi’s original name was Milh which means ‘Salt’.
• At 5,627 sq m (60,570 sq ft), the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque in Abu Dhabi has the largest carpet in the world.
• Built in 1761, the White Fort was first painted white during renovations in the 1970s.

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Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi

Recently renovated, this high-end hotel with 202 guest rooms and 74 luxury suites, offers indoor and outdoor swimming pools, wireless internet access, a fitness centre with sauna and steam room and a squash hall. Le Royal Méridien also has nine restaurants and bars and excellent facilities for business meetings and banquets.

St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort

This gorgeous resort is far enough from the mainland to feel like a true escape from the city, but still has plenty of on-site entertainment to ensure a pleasant stay. Along with classy, residential-style rooms, 5-star restaurants and glamorous bars, there’s also a lovely spa and stunning private beach.

Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort

Overlooking the Arabian Gulf the Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort has 272 guest rooms and suites all luxuriously appointed and offering high-speed Internet access. The 5-star stay has excellent restaurants a business centre and state of the art banqueting and conference facilities. Ask for a room overlooking the sea for the best view.

Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al Beri

Located 15 minutes from the city centre, the magnificent Shangri-La boasts over 200 rooms and suites, plus some of the best restaurants and bars in the city. More palace than city hotel, be sure to ask for a room with a view of the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Hilton Abu Dhabi

As well as great city centre views, the Hilton has all the hallmarks of a classy chain hotel. It has a gym, one of the city's biggest indoor swimming pools and a sauna. The restaurant serves up a combination of international cuisine and local specialities. All guest rooms have high-speed Wi-FI access too.

One to One Hotels - The Village

One of Abu Dhabi's first truly boutique hotels, The Village was built to resemble a modern local street, complete with shops and restaurants. Located in a comparatively quiet part of the city, its 127 apartment-like rooms are separated into clusters of 18, each with its own rooftop pool. Facilities include LCD TVs, Internet access and a gym.