UAE then and now: Memories of the Volcano Fountain on Abu Dhabi's Corniche

Use our interactive slider to explore a landmark that holds a special place in the hearts of Abu Dhabi residents past and present

Today, life in the Emirates moves in the fast lane. In a new regular series to mark the 50th anniversary of the UAE we take a little trip back in time and see just how much the country has changed.

The 1980s was a time when cassettes were king, the Hamdan Centre was the coolest mall in town and the Abu Dhabi Corniche had its Volcano Fountain.

The landmark was built in the 1980s on a series of circular tiered platforms. Flights of stairs led to the top. It was illuminated with red lights after dark so the cascading water almost seemed like lava streaming from a volcano.

In an era before mobile phones, the fountain – al shallal in Arabic – was a cherished meeting spot where families strolled around taking the sea air.

It featured on postcards of Abu Dhabi and annual National Day celebrations took place there. Traders sold sweets, peanuts and newspapers, while vendors with Polaroid cameras sought customers.

A faded photograph of the fountain is in the shoebox collection of many a resident who called Abu Dhabi home.

“The Volcano Fountain was the happening place for old timers of Abu Dhabi,” said longtime resident Ramesh Menon.

"It was a common location to exchange pleasantries, letters and cassettes recorded with voice messages that people brought from their home countries after returning to Abu Dhabi from leave," he said.

"Newborn babies were also introduced to friends and family when mothers were discharged from the Corniche Hospital, which was nearby."

The old photograph was taken in 1991 by Barry Iverson, who was on assignment in the city for Time magazine. He shot the fountain, located at the end of Sultan bin Zayed the First Street – also known as Muroor – from the top of the tiers leading to the summit, looking back towards the city. It shows the former Abu Dhabi Investment Authority headquarters in the middle of the three large buildings to the left of the fountain.

But larger plans lay ahead for the Corniche. Cars were able to travel around the fountain on the sea-facing side and the planned improvements involved expanding the Corniche and adding more facilities for pedestrians.

The fountain was demolished in 2004 as part of this project, and this makes finding the exact same spot today a challenge.

The National's Victor Besa took the new photograph and he found a peaceful green garden around where the Volcano Fountain once stood.

The skyline has also changed with more towers, including the Burj Mohammed bin Rashid – Abu Dhabi's tallest building – soaring into the sky at the far right.

Other lost landmarks, such as the clock tower and GCC roundabouts, were also once fixtures of the capital, but the Volcano Fountain holds a special place in the hearts of many Abu Dhabi residents past and present. It is a symbol from simpler times.

"Many in Abu Dhabi still remember it," Mr Menon said. "For all those who do, they were fond memories."

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