UAE then and now: the rise of Louvre Abu Dhabi

Use our interactive slider and scroll through the photo gallery to explore how the world-class museum helped transform Saadiyat Island into a hub for culture and art

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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 trip back in time to see how much the country has changed.

Saadiyat Island – which translates as the “island of happiness” – has a history almost as old as Abu Dhabi.

Archaeologists have found the remains of old fishing communities and in the 1970s it was the base of the Sea Pearl, a huge hoverbarge used to carry prefabricated sections of a liquid gas plant to Das Island.

During this time it was also used for experimental hydroponic vegetable greenhouses, famously inspected by Muhammad Ali when the boxer visited Abu Dhabi in 1974.

Today the island is the heart of the city's Cultural District, announced in 2007 with a proposal to build three world-class museums – a branch of the Guggenheim, the Zayed National Museum and Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The global financial crisis a year later led to the suspension of construction projects worldwide – the Louvre Abu Dhabi among them – but work restarted on the site in 2013.

The older photograph here was taken in July 2014. It shows the structure of Jean Nouvel’s dome almost complete, but before it was covered with a final layer of interlocking aluminium stars.

Still to be completed at that time were the tidal pools that now surround the museum. You can also see the two massive mobile cranes used to lift roof elements into place and, to the right, part of the base of a “pyramid” used to test the construction materials against the rigours of Gulf summers.

Also just visible on the right are a series of concrete towers that are actually nearly a kilometre away in the port, but foreshortened by the photographer’s lens.

The museum was completed in 2017, and opened on November 8 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai; Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and Emmanuel Macron, President of France.

Today, Louvre Abu Dhabi is one of the UAE’s top attractions and, with a design life measured in centuries, is likely to stay that way for some time to come.

Updated: September 29, 2021, 3:55 AM