Rare pictures of Sheikh Zayed's 1951 trip to the Vatican found in private collection

The royal, who later became the first president, is said to have been inspired by what he saw in Europe and was determined to modernise his country

With the Swiss Guard, St Peter’s Square, Vatican City, Rome. Courtesy: The Victor Hashem Family Collection 
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Rarely seen pictures of a visit to the Vatican by Sheikh Zayed more than 60 years ago have been found in the personal collection of a Lebanese French family.

The grainy black-and-white images were captured in 1951 as the late Father of the Nation toured Europe as part of an official entourage.

Alongside the UAE’s future president was his older brother, Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan, the then Ruler of Abu Dhabi.

The delegation first travelled from Abu Dhabi to Bahrain, before flying on to France and then home via Italy, Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon.

“The photos capture beautiful, timeless moments of this European journey where the delegation posed in front of historical and religious landmarks,” said Rym Tina Ghazal, organiser and curator of a recent exhibition organised by the European Delegation to the UAE.

“I was searching for gems, and found them. Each photo tells a story and speaks volumes decades later.”

Vatican Fountain at St Peter’s Square, Vatican City, Rome. Courtesy The Victor Hashem Family Collection

The Abu Dhabi delegation made their landmark trip from the Emirates during August of 1951.

It was the first time Sheikh Zayed had travelled to Europe, and the reason for the foray was to take part in key arbitration hearings in Paris related to the Emirate’s offshore oil concessions.

Whilst in France, the entourage took the opportunity to sightsee, including the Notre-Dame Cathedral on the banks of the River Seine.

Later the group also toured Vatican City, posing in St Peter’s Square with a soldier of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, the unit who have traditionally borne responsibility for protecting the Pope.

The Abu Dhabi delegation: centre (sitting) the then Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan. From left to right, his brother Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the then Ruler’s Representative in Abu Dhabi’s Eastern Region, Khalifa bin Yousef, Victor Hashem, Abdullah bin Ghanoum and Sheikh Saeed bin Shakhbut Al Nahyan, son of Sheikh Shakhbut.The late Victor Hashem was a close companion to the Sheikhs. Courtesy The Victor Hashem Family Collection 

“From visiting parks and museums, Sheikh Zayed also visited churches with the group,” said Ms Ghazal.

“The photo of the Emirati delegation in full traditional dress with a Swiss Guard in St Peter’s Square, Vatican City, Rome is the stuff of legends.

“Precious photos of visits to Paris’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart and Notre Dame also capture a curiosity and openness to explore and learn from others.”

Part of the delegation that summer included Victor Hashem, a close companion of the Sheikhs whose family later uncovered the collection of photos.

His images took pride of place in the ‘Sheikh Zayed and Europe’ exhibition which was held until earlier this month at the Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi.

 At the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. Courtesy The Victor Hashem Family Collection 

“Travelling abroad in the 1950s and 1960s, [Sheikh Zayed] was inspired by what he saw in Europe, and wanted the same for his people,” said Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

“And with the new revenues generated by oil sales, he was able to embark upon major construction and development projects at home, to ensure that the people benefited from their wealth, and to work for unity and federation in the region.”

At the Notre Dame, Paris. Courtesy The Victor Hashem Family Collection 

The EU-UAE exhibit paid tribute to the Founding Father through rare pictures, videos, memorabilia and artefacts related to the late Sheikh Zayed.

The building blocks of the event were inspired by the long history of cultural and diplomatic exchange between Europe and the UAE.