Demolition work is about to start in Mina Zayed as a major redevelopment of Abu Dhabi's historic port and traditional markets gets under way.
A string of shops, restaurants and cafes have closed and white hoardings that say “demolition in progress” have been erected around them.
The works are taking place close to the fish market – which is currently unaffected – in an area known as the dhow harbour in the shadow of Abu Dhabi's skyline.
Entry to the area has been prohibited since April 1 and the demolition works are set to start in the next few weeks. An end date has not been given for the works, but they are expected to take a few years at least.
Restaurants such as Mina Modern and Saudi Cuisine are now closed, while a handful of outlets, including Al Dhafra and Al Sayyad, have moved elsewhere. Barbers, baqalas and fishing tackle shops are among those permanently shut.
Al Dhafra restaurant was popular with tourists and busloads of visitors were a frequent site on the quayside outside its premises. Work here has already started with chairs and wooden verandas removed.
“Customers have been asking when we will return, when the works will be finished and about the new developments at the port,” said Ilham A Qani, who works in sales at Al Dhafra. The restaurant has temporarily relocated to the wedding hall in Mina Zayed but will shift to a new premises down the road in Heritage Park in a few weeks. “The tourists will like the new developments," she said.
Redevelopment of the wider Mina Zayed area, including its traditional markets, has been loosely planned for years. But Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, approved a huge new development plan in February last year.
The move came hours after Sheikh Mohamed met Moosa Khan, a shop owner at the carpet souq. A video of Mr Khan refusing a large amount of money for one of his carpets, which had the image of Founding President Sheikh Zayed on it, because it had hung in the shop for 25 years had been shared widely online.
The redevelopment includes a new marina, a cultural quarter around the arts centre, Warehouse 421, and an overhaul of the traditional markets. Photographs of the original announcement showed Sheikh Mohamed viewing images of new seafront areas, rejuvenated souqs and restaurants.
It is also envisaged that dozens of fishing dhows that are currently anchored at the harbour will move on. Environment chiefs banned the use of gargoor – a traditional type of fishing cage and the mainstay of their business – on May 1. Many fisherman have already left the country and it is believed the departing dhows will make way for the new marina.
Magellan Marine Equipment are among the shops that have moved from the area earmarked for development to a new site behind the fish market.
“For many years we had been expecting to move," said Sulaiman Cheruvath, the shop’s marketing manager. “We expected it almost any day. The deadline we then received was December 2018, but we moved in January this year. All the shops were cleared by around March.”
Ever since Abu Dhabi’s old souq was gutted by a blaze in 2003, Mina Zayed has become the only place in the city to offer a traditional market. Busloads of tourists visit the fruit and vegetable bazaar to sample local dates, while the plant souq still does a busy trade selling lemon trees, tomato plants and herbs. The carpet souq and Iranian market – with its collection of hurricane lanterns, wooden chests and pots and pans – remain busy at weekends.
The fish market, meanwhile, has been going through a small renovation of its own over the past few months. New restaurants and a supermarket have opened there and workers said a lot of their customers have been asking about the works.
“Lots of older people who used to visit the cafes have come in to ask us about it,” said Safeer, an Indian worker there.
“Everybody is talking about it but no one is quite sure what’s going to happen."
Abu Dhabi Municipality did not respond to a request for comment.