UAE then and now: How Reem Island became an iconic part of Abu Dhabi's skyline

Use our interactive slider and scroll through the picture gallery to explore the changing face of the island

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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.

This series has showcased the huge changes that have taken place in the UAE over the past few decades.

But, in some cases, this transformation has been accomplished much sooner.

Abu Dhabi’s Reem Island in the early 2000s was an expanse of sand surrounded by nothing but mangroves and the waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Today, it is home to scores of high-rise towers that have transformed Abu Dhabi’s skyline.

The older shot, taken in 2011, showed the first phase of this huge building boom. The multi-billion-dollar development consisted of luxurious high-rises, schools, offices and even a branch of France’s prestigious Sorbonne University.

It marked a move away from the traditional low-rise developments on Abu Dhabi island and it also became one of the first places in which residents could own freehold apartments.

In the middle of the older photograph, we see the construction of some of Abu Dhabi’s most striking buildings: Sun, Horizon and, on the right, Gate Towers. Sky Tower is hidden behind Horizon. The distinctive cap across the three individual towers of the Gate complex has yet to be set in place but it is not far off.

When the older photograph was taken, construction was coming to a temporary pause because of the fallout from 2008’s global financial crisis. But activity on the island has ramped up significantly since, with more than a 100 towers now completed from the handful that existed in 2011.

The new photograph shows the same scene again and the transformation is clear. The Gate and Sun and Sky development is now one of the largest on the island, while Horizon Towers has also been completed.

Despite the fact that many parts of the island are still waiting to be developed, the foundations are being laid for the future. Reem Mall, which features the world’s largest snow park, is set to open soon, while residents can also enjoy walks through newly-opened parks that champion diversity.

Anyone passing the Eastern Mangroves Hotel on Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Street (Salam Street) can also see a huge bridge being built adjacent to the mangroves.

It will eventually connect to Reem through Umm Lafina Island, adding another landmark to what not long ago was just a tract of sand.

Updated: November 25, 2021, 8:51 AM