Abu Dhabi, from pearls to oil

This article is also available in: Italiano

Today is the anniversary of the birth of the United Arab Emirates, a perfect time to tell the story of this country, where the dynasties are still the masters. First episode with the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, seat of the capital and de facto founder of the country.

Abu Dhabi among pearls and dates

The Tawam area, near the city of al Ain, was first inhabited about 8,000 years ago, soon becoming one of the most flourishing and richest oases in the entire area. This allowed the inhabitants to obtain great results from herdingand fishing, in a certain sense holding back economic development for much of their history. In fact, other sectors did not develop for a long time, although this area became important for camel breeding, date harvesting and pearl trading. Things will begin to change, however, with the affirmation of the tribal confederation of the Bani Yas which in the 17th century will occupy the area of Dubai, becoming the de facto hegemonic power in the area.

Abu Dhabi

At this point, however, the hegemonic family, or the al Nahyan, who ruled both al Ain and Dubai, split, fueling the political instability of the area. Shortly thereafter, all the emirs of the current United Arab Emirates will be placed under the forced pacification of England which will transform them into the Truce States, placing a protectorate on the newborn state.

Oil and dynasty

In the mid-20th century, the emirate of Abu Dhabi supported itself with the traditional economy, so much so that the rich inhabitants lived in mud houses, while the poor lived in houses made with palm leaves. However, everything began to change in 1939, the year in which the then Emir Shakhbut bin Sultan al Nahyan made the first oil concessions, even if it was necessary to wait until 1958 before actually finding a well. It was shortly after this event that, de facto, the modern emirate was born. The then ruler, in fact, estimated the wealth derived from black gold as something passing, not wanting to spend most of the money received from the British.

Abu Dhabi
Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan

This led the al Nahyan to a peaceful coup, bringing Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, his younger brother, to the throne. The change of leadership brought splendid fruits to the whole country, showing all Zayed’s political ability and his gaze towards the future. In addition to strongly strengthening the oil industry and calling Katsuhiko Takahashi to design the new Abu Dhabi, he devoted himself a lot to alliances and treaties, managing in a very short time to give life to the United Arab Emirates. In 1968 he will in fact sign an alliance with Dubai, followed by those with all the previous members of the Truce States with the exception of Ras al Khaimah which will join only 1 year later. On December 2, 1971, the new state was officially born and Zayed became its president until his death in 2004. Today he is considered the father of the nation.

The birth of Abu Dhabi

The name Abu Dhabi means “father of the gazelles” and this seems to be due to the large presence of these animals in the area. Regarding the birth of the city of Abu Dhabi, however, not too much information is reported, except that it was immediately connected to the lineage of the al Nahyan, originally from the Liwa oasis, very close to the border with Saudi Arabia.

Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi

According to a popular legend, Dhiyab bin Isa al Nahya, progenitor of the dynasty, was taking part in a hunting trip when he found a gazelle of rare beauty; chasing her, he reached the current island of Abu Dhabi, remaining bewitched by the place. Back home he ordered his son Shakbut to move the family there and to start building the new city that would host them; the first settlement dates back to 1793.

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