The spectacle and glitter of Abu Dhabi Featured

Luxos discovers how the city is racing ahead to become the cultural capital of the Middle East.
by 19 October 2009

Abu Dhabi can be likened to Dubai’s older, more mature brother. Established, wealthier and primed for the future. The oil-rich capital city of the UAE may not grab as many headlines as the party capital, but with the development of a new cultural district, filled with world-class museums, Abu Dhabi is destined for a different kind of stardom.

One of most spectacular sites in Abu Dhabi is the new Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, or the Grand Mosque. Standing 85 meters high and stretching for over 22,000 square meters, it is the third largest, and some would say most beautiful, modern Mosque in the world. Inspired by Moroccan architecture, it features 80 white marble domes, more than 7000 meters of artificial lakes, over a thousand grand pillars, gem and pearl-encrusted walls, 24-carat gold floor tiles and the largest chandelier ever built.

In close competition for sheer scope and ambition is the famous Emirates Palace. Not the Sheikh’s residence, this is actually a gigantic, white marble hotel with 400 rooms and suites. This is not to say that the ruling family do not visit the hotel. In fact there are entire floors dedicated to Presidential, Ruler and Royal Suites that are inaccessible to other guests, with private driveways and entrances.

For many residents and visitors, the most welcome development is on Saadiyat Island, 700m off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Translating as ‘island of happiness’, it is currently being transformed into the country’s cultural district. First of the five Pritzker prize-winning architects to complete his contribution to the district is Frank Gehry, whose Guggenheim Museum promises to rival Bilbao’s. Just as ground-breaking is Zaha Hadid’s Performing Arts Centre and the Louvre, which will house new and traveling exhibitions from around the world in its astounding 6000m2 space.

But this November, all eyes are bound to be on the brand new, state-of-the-art Yas Marina Circuit, which plays host to the final race of the Grand Prix’s World Championship season. It’s the first time the capital has hosted Formula 1, and in true local style, the track and grounds are the most beautiful, innovative and luxurious ever built.

Designed by Herman Tilke, the Yas Marina is the only circuit to accommodate an underground pit lane, and a 500-room, five-star hotel that straddles the racetrack. Residents of the hotel will also have the privilege of Paddock-access via a purpose-built footbridge and exclusive entrance to the event.

Tickets to the historic race sold out as early as summer, with visitors having to book land, air and sea vessels to journey out to the circuit on Yas Island, just off the coast of Abu Dhabi.

Of course, if iconic architecture and world-class racing don’t inspire you, the sedate city has a multitude of bars, restaurants, hotels, parks and a long stretch of beach along the Corniche that will keep you just as entertained.

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