UAE then and now: Watch Abu Dhabi grow from island town to global metropolis

Use our interactive slider and click through the picture gallery to explore how Abu Dhabi expanded from just an island to a city of suburbs

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.

During the course of the year, this series has travelled across the country tracking the changes over the past five decades. It has chronicled lost souqs, war-era cinemas, historic airports and old landmarks remembered fondly by residents past and present.

But it has also showcased new developments such as Burj Al Arab and Dubai Metro that redefined the UAE’s cities and become landmarks in their own right.

The series started in February with Qasr Al Hosn, beginning with the city’s oldest building with the new skyscrapers of Burj Mohammed bin Rashid and the World Trade Centre in the background.

Abu Dhabi between 1984 and 2020. Gif: Google Earth Timelapse

So it is only right that it is to the capital we return to finish the series, where data from Google Earth’s Timelapse project illustrates the pace of change in Abu Dhabi and the surrounding islands over the past few decades.

The time-lapse, a zoomable picture of how the Earth's surface has changed, starts in 1984. Development is then still centred on the island but by 2020, empty desert and reclaimed land have become districts such as Khalifa City, Raha Beach and Mohamed bin Zayed city. Abu Dhabi has become a city of suburbs.

Mussaffah, the sprawling industrial area in Abu Dhabi’s south-west often visited by residents to service their cars, was a haphazard maze of roads and rudimentary workshops but by 2020, it has been firmly established as one of the engines of the city.

The images also show how land reclamation has reshaped the emirate. Yas Island, once connected to the mainland, was formed into an island and developed as an entertainment destination with the images showing the construction of the Formula One track, hotels and golf courses.

It also shows the growth of Abu Dhabi Corniche and the appearance of Marina Mall, the breakwater, Mina Zayed, Lulu Island and the addition of another island beside Hudayriat Island.

The time-lapse also charts the development of Saadiyat Island. Once a sandy haven beloved of early residents who took day trips there, it was also briefly home to a greenhouse growing vegetables in the 1970s.

But larger plans were in place for the island and the images show its transformation into an island of museums, universities and luxury resorts. The later images show the early construction of the Abrahamic Family House and the Zayed Museum, buildings that are certain to become landmarks for new generations of residents.

Updated: December 23rd 2021, 9:08 AM