Watch: Footage of Abu Dhabi in the 1990s shows it in all its nostalgic glory

The video shows a much quieter Corniche and some of the city's cherished landmarks

Archive footage of Abu Dhabi Corniche

Archive footage of Abu Dhabi Corniche
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A home-made film showing Abu Dhabi's Corniche in 1993 is making many past and present residents of the city smile.

The footage was posted to a popular social media group called "Abu Dhabi – The Good Old Days" – and it has generated a warm-hearted and nostalgia-filled conversation about life in the city back then.

The video was shot by Michael Oakes and it shows a much quieter Corniche and many fondly-remembered landmarks, including some that have vanished from the city’s skyline.

Mr Oakes, who is from the UK, shot the footage when he was a teenager, using a Panasonic video recorder while a passenger in his father's car with a visiting friend in the back. They travel along the old Corniche road on an early August afternoon that year.

Large trees sway in the central median and far fewer cars pass down the road than do today. Along the route can be seen landmarks such as the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce building; the Clock Tower; Hilton Abu Dhabi (now Radisson Blu); and the old headquarters of Adnoc.

“As a kid it felt pretty developed then,” said Mr Oakes, who lived in Abu Dhabi with his parents from 1978 to 1991 and then returned most years for summer holidays. “Abu Dhabi was modernising. It had a slower [and] conservative ... growth strategy. It was totally different to Dubai.”

The footage shows the glass-fronted office building that is now home to the Corniche branch of Union National Bank. When it was built, it was one of the UAE capital’s most distinctive landmarks and a sign of the city's growing internationalism. Construction of the Baynunah Tower can be seen beside it.

The car then turns left around the Intercontinental hotel roundabout and the film shows a glimpse of the old Adnoc residential buildings. The famed white-and-gold Abu Dhabi taxis also make an appearance.

The Abu Dhabi of 1993 was a smaller city. Islands such as Saadiyat and Yas had yet to be developed, Khalifa City was not the suburb we know today and life was very much centred on the island. Mr Oakes said social life revolved around four hotels: Le Meridien; Hilton Abu Dhabi; Sheraton Abu Dhabi and the Intercontinental. The Tourist Club, a long demolished entertainment centre beside Le Meridien, was also open, which Mr Oakes described as similar to British seaside holiday camps such as Butlins.

The video also speaks of a time when analogue was king. This was an era before the widespread use of the internet and no one had smart phones. Videos had to be shot on a clunky hand-held camera and then hope the tape didn’t get damaged. Mr Oakes remembers people bringing over taped versions of British TV staples such as Top of the Pops , which were then watched in Abu Dhabi weeks after they were broadcast.

For Mr Oakes, the reaction to the video on social media has been heart warming. “I love it. What really strikes me is that we are a much bigger community than we thought," he said, referring to the numbers of expatriates who lived and worked in Abu Dhabi over the years. "I just didn’t realise there were so many of us.”

Thirty years on, some of the buildings, such as the Union National Bank and Chamber of Commerce, look practically the same. But the skyline is full of glittering new towers and the Corniche has changed beyond all recognition. A major land reclamation project a few years after the video was shot pushed the Corniche farther out, led to the construction of a new road and added pristine new beaches. Some of the landmarks, such as the Clock Tower, were demolished to make way for the project.

The video has also generated lively debate between different generations of residents who feel their time was the best. Some feel the 1970s trumped them all, others the 1980s, while some believe the “good old days” were gone by the time Mr Oakes shot the video. “A lot of people look back with such fond nostalgia but there is a competitiveness with people who were there,” Mr Oakes said with a chuckle. “People of the 1960s and 1970s say the old days were gone by the 1990s,” he said.

“But I love the feeling of community. Abu Dhabi really had that.”

Abu Dhabi Corniche through the years - in pictures

Updated: April 20, 2023, 12:00 AM