The Founder’s Memorial near Abu Dhabi's Corniche has today opened to the public after more than six years in the design and construction process.
As evening fell on Sunday night, tourists walked through the gardens past ghaf, sidr and samr trees and waited for the lights to shine from The Constellation, an installation of 1,327 geometric shapes suspended from a 30-metre-tall cube. They outline a three-dimensional silhouette of the face of Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE. Its hanging shapes shine like stars at night, evoking a constellation.
In the manner of the Wahat Al Karama memorial, this monument combines sculpture, architecture and landscape gardening with indigenous plants and water features. “The place is beautiful,” said Noureddine Laaroussi, 50, a Swiss tourist. “Is it a garden or a museum?”
Mr Laaroussi’s friend, Karim Marmet, said even as a tourist, he was familiar with Sheikh Zayed. “The tourists guides on Dubai all talk about him,” said Mr Marmet, a second-time visitor to the UAE.
Mr Laaroussi was photographing Mr Marmet by the fountain, a water feature inspired by the traditional falaj irrigation channels – one of Sheikh Zayed's early community projects as the Ruler of Al Ain was the restoration of its irrigation system.
Cherry Regondola, 37, had brought her friend to see the monument on opening day. She knew of the memorial from Instagram, where she follows the ruling families of the UAE.
“We’re excited to see it after dark,” said Ms Regondola, an Abu Dhabi resident. “We don’t know that much about Sheikh Zayed but we know that he’s the father of the UAE.”
Emirati tour guides give free 30-minute tours that provide a general overview of the country’s history.
The installation, by American public artist Ralph Helmick, weighs 250 tonnes. It sits at the corner of Emirates Palace on the Corniche and the breakwater road, which old timers in Abu Dhabi will remember as the site of Liaquat Ali Khan’s 35-metre portrait of the Founding Father.
The portrait was painted on 284 plywood panels and an Abu Dhabi landmark until it was removed in 2009, a year after Mr Khan moved back to Pakistan following 28 years of service in the municipality.
When the memorial was first unveiled in February, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid called it an "important message that links future generations to the memory of the leader who laid the foundations of the nation.
“It is a message that the youth must absorb and work to achieve in various sectors to continue the process initiated by Zayed and the UAE’s founders and to build the future of a country that wants its citizens always to excel,” he said.
The attraction also includes a visitor's centre celebrating the life of Sheikh Zayed, which is open to the public from 9am to 10pm daily, and gardens with trees and plants indigenous to the UAE. A walkway offers views of The Constellation as well as the skyline of Abu Dhabi as it would be seen through the eyes of Sheikh Zayed. Public parking is available across the street.