7000 Years of
Abu Dhabi History

Abu Dhabi history as we can relate to has really begun in the last 50 years.  Abu Dhabi has exploded beyond all imagination.  But what came before?

7000 years ago

Parts of Abu Dhabi Emirate have possibly been settled for over 7000 years: throughout the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. Imagine living here with no air conditioning - the ancient (and modern) people were tough!

A bronze age culture, Umm an-Nar, has been located near the main city of Abu Dhabi.  This is 5000 years old! Evidence of further civilization has been found close to Al Ain and around the mountain of Hafeet (Jebel Hafeet). A nomadic bedouin existence was normal.

In the year 630 envoys from the prophet Mohammad arrived. Conversion to Islam began.

What about Abu Dhabi city itself?

Well, modern Abu Dhabi city is traced back to the rise of the Bani Yas bedouin in the 18th century. Legend has it that a deer was chased all the way from Liwa to the shore of what was to one day become Abu Dhabi. Fresh water was discovered in 1761 and soon a small fishing village was settled. 

The Bani Yas tribe were originally centered around Liwa Oasis, but in 1763 groups migrated to the island of Abu Dhabi itself.  The ruling Al Nahyan family of modern day Abu Dhabi Emirate are descended from them.

The name ‘Abu Dhabi’ itself has been used for over 300 years. While it means ‘Father of Deer/Gazelle’ the actual origin is unclear. Possibly it was named after the bedouin hunter who chased the deer (Dhabi) and was named the ‘father’! 

People in new Abu Dhabi lived in barasti huts made from palm fronds. However, to protect the newly discovered water,  a small, round watch tower, Qasr Al Hosn, was built.  It was made of mud. Believed to have been in 1763, this marked the birth of Abu Dhabi Emirate as we know it. Today Qasr Al Hosn is Abu Dhabi’s only historical building still standing.

What did people in Abu Dhabi history used to do?

Camel herding, date and vegetable production predominated in Al Ain and Liwa oases. 

Fishing and pearl diving were the main industry in Abu Dhabi city right into the 20th century. Divers used to dive up to thirty times a day for minimal wages. Oxygen tanks were not available and any mechanical devices were forbidden. 

Abu Dhabi expanded rapidly towards the end of the 19th century. 

In 1892 the British had arranged a treaty with Sheikh Zayed bin Mohammed Al Nahyan so that Abu Dhabi Emirate became a protectorate of Britain and it joined the Trucial States. The British initially came to protect the trade route to India from pirates. The area used to be known as ‘Pirate Coast’.  Treaties or ‘truces’ with the sheikhs of the Gulf shore gave them influence. After suppressing the pirates, the strategic location of the area became important. 

Things were good for a while.

The fall of the pearl industry and the rise of oil

Unfortunately, as cultured pearls from Japan became more common, the pearl industry declined.

Luckily, as the pearl trade declined, interest in oil in the region grew.

Oil concessions were granted in 1936 to the Petroleum Development (Trucial Coast) Company and oil was first found in 1958. 

Everything changed. Modern Abu Dhabi was about to erupt.

Exports began in 1962.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan saw the potential for oil.

August 6, 1966 Sheikh Zayed became the new ruler. 

With the discovery of oil there came an influx of expats from around the world. They first came working with the oil industry.  As the numbers grew other industry and services were required to meet their needs.  So began the furiously fast development of Abu Dhabi Emirate.

1968 The British announced they would be withdrawing from the Persian Gulf.  Sheikh Zayed became the driving force for the creation of the United Arab Emirates.  

1971 The UAE was established with HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi as leader.  Since then, Abu Dhabi has expanded quietly.  Not making the worldwide headlines like Dubai Emirate, it has nevertheless positioned itself perfectly to become a world renowned tourist travel and business destination. 

Traditional Dhow at Heritage Village overlooking Abu Dhabi city

The last 10 years in Abu Dhabi History

2003  Etihad airways established

2004  Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan ‘Father of the Nation’ dies. His son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is elected as ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the UAE. He continues to invest in tourism.  The aim is 3 million tourists a year by 2015!

2005  Emirates Palace opens - world’s most expensive hotel.

2007  Sheikh Zayed Mosque opens - world’s eighth largest mosque - a modern day wonder.

2009  First Abu Dhabi Grand Prix held at Yas Marina Circuit on Yas Island.

2010  Ferrari World on Yas Island opens - world’s largest indoor theme park with the world’s fastest roller coaster.

2011  Saadiyat island hotels open, UAE celebrates 40 years.

2013  Yas Waterworld opens, Saadiyat and Yas beaches open.

See for yourself

If you want to find out more about the Abu Dhabi history then visit the Heritage Village in Abu Dhabi City. Run by the Emirates Heritage club you will get the chance to see more of the emirate’s past.  Traditional desert life and work become reality.

Abu Dhabi Heritage Village

Abu Dhabi history is long and varied. Cold clinical dates don’t tell us about the hardship and suffering that must have occurred. Or the determination of the people to succeed. If the next 50 years are anything like the last 50 years then we will be witnessing something amazing. Only time will tell!


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