UAE then and now: Images show Abu Dhabi's transformation in less than a lifetime

Use our interactive slider and scroll through the picture gallery to explore the changing face of the capital's Corniche

Today, life in the Emirates moves in the fast lane. In a regular series to mark the 50th anniversary of the UAE, we take a little trip back in time and see how much the country has changed.

The older photograph was taken close to sunset in the late 1970s or early 1980s when Abu Dhabi was expanding on the back of the oil boom. A six-lane motorway guides motorists down the Corniche and past one of the capital’s most distinctive early towers.

This building can be seen in the middle of the older photograph, with a distinctive white concrete cap and glass panels. It became the headquarters of the BCCI-Emirates Bank. Mina Zayed can be seen in the distance.

It was a time when new buildings, roads and even radio stations were established at a rapid pace. Beside the transmission mast were the studios of Capital Radio – Abu Dhabi’s first attempt at a pop music station. Singers such as Tina Turner and Shirley Bassey visited the studios on their way through the city.

Several decades on, we see a Corniche that has changed utterly. Despite the hazy evening weather, the skyscrapers of Burj Mohammed bin Rashid and Landmark Tower loom in the distance, while cutting into the photograph on the right is Nation Towers. Land reclamation has also meant more development on the Corniche, with public beaches, hotel clubs and restaurants added.

The old tower block, now home to the Corniche branch of Union National Bank, is still there, but is surrounded by the high rises. Capital Radio’s transmission mast and original studios survive but are obscured by Nation Towers.

This series is called “then and now”. But the “then” photograph was actually taken in 2018 and for a reason. Both images were shot on the roof of one of the oldest hotels in the city – Radisson Blu Abu Dhabi. The hotel is still widely referred to as Hilton Abu Dhabi and was opened in 1973 by Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father.

Photographs from the 1970s show it standing alone at the end of the Corniche and surrounded by nothing but sand. It was the first five-star brand in the city and introduced new foods such as smoked salmon, avocado and foie gras that had to flown in from London once a week.

But the only certainty in Abu Dhabi is change. It was announced in 2018 that the hotel would no longer carry the Hilton name. The historic Hilton signs were removed from the roof, around the time the photograph was taken, and from the following January it became a Radisson Blu and the city's skyline changed once again.

Updated: November 11th 2021, 10:54 AM
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