Abu Dhabi: Entering the Great Hall of Qasr Al Watan — when it opened its doors to visitors for the first time on Monday — was a simply breathtaking experience.
This section of the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi, with its vast dome and fully decorated walls of architectural marvels, offers visitors a rare glimpse into Arabian heritage and history to a previously unseen scale of grandeur.
Under one of the largest domes in the world it’s impossible not to find yourself awestruck among the glistening marble, before walking through between huge pillars and under glimmering chandeliers that lead you into the depths of the palace through its vast corridors and golden doors. Read on to find out what we found there ...
What is it?
Qasr Al Watan ‘Palace of the Nation’ is the current meeting place for the UAE Cabinet and Federal Supreme Council — the highest constitutional authority in the UAE — where official state visits and global leaders are hosted. It is part of the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi and is located at the end of Corniche Road in the capital past Emirates Palace Hotel.
Why has it opened?
To give visitors the opportunity to gain deeper understanding of the UAE’s values and traditions, enabling them to explore a well-preserved legacy of knowledge. The opening of Qasr Al Watan to the public is also in line with the UAE’s ambition to become a knowledge-based economy as part of Vision 2021, which aims to put the UAE up among the world’s best countries by its 50th anniversary in 2021.
What’s to see?
Visitors will start their journey through Arabian history and heritage from The Great Hall — the heart of the building. In the west wing of the Palace, they will learn about the formation of the UAE and its system of governance. Visitors can also access an important chamber ‘the Spirit of Collaboration’ that hosts heads of states and governments during official summits. The Federal Supreme Council and the UAE Cabinet meetings are also held here. Here one definitely feels privileged to enter this previously off-limits realm that still to this day holds such high level talks and historic meetings.
A collection of diplomatic gifts received from visiting heads of state and foreign dignitaries are also on display there and are viewable to the public for the first time. The best of these include full Samurai armour from Japan, to the finest carpets from Turkmenistan and even a model boat from Spain. Meanwhile, the House of Knowledge in the east wing of the Palace features rare artefacts, books, manuscripts and antiquities from the Arab world, while the Qasr Al Watan Library houses over 40,000 books. Al Barza is another section of the palace, which acts as the Majlis, a space for cultural, political and social gatherings. Here there will be engaging multimedia shows that detail the traditions of Emirati leaders in governing with the consensus of their people. All exhibits at the palace reflect the UAE’s governing values and traditions, apart from highlighting Arab contributions in various fields of knowledge like science, arts, humanities and literature.
What else is on offer?
In the evening, visitors can also enjoy a magnificent light and sound show ‘Palace in Motion’, which will be projected onto the facade of the iconic building. A story told in three acts, the show draws a link between the aspirations of Qasr Al Watan and the vision of the nation, reflecting the UAE’s journey of the past, present and future.
How to visit
Entry fee: Entrance to the Palace and Garden costs Dh60 for adults and Dh30 for ‘juniors’ aged between 4-17 years old. Children under the age of three enter free. Access to just the Garden costs Dh25 for adults and Dh12 for juniors. Guided tours are available in English and Arabic every half hour and last approximately one hour. Private guided tours are also available at a total cost of Dh600 for a group of one to 20 guests. Again these last one hour and are available in English and Arabic.
Visiting hours: From 10am until 8pm daily. Tickets can be bought daily at the visitor centre from 9.30am until 7.00pm and online from the official website www.qasralwatan.ae, for more details call 00971 600-544-442 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Where is it: Qasr Al Watan is part of the Presidential Palace, located at the end of Corniche Road in Abu Dhabi past Emirates Palace Hotel.
Five other palaces that have opened to the public
Buckingham Palace, London, England
Home to the British royal family since it was acquired by King George III in 1761. It became the main London residence of the royals with the ascension of Queen Victoria in 1837.
Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
The official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782. The king and his court and royal government were based on the grounds until 1925.
Grand Kremlin Palace, Moscow, Russia
Formerly the Tsar’s Moscow residence, it is currently the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation though it is rarely used beyond ceremonial purposes.
Rashtrapati Bhavan, Delhi, India
The Indian President’s official home, this is the largest home of any head of state in the world in terms of total area with 130 hectares of garden surrounding the 340-room estate.
Palace of Versailles, Paris, France
Was the principal royal residence of France from 1682, under Louis XIV, until the start of the French Revolution in 1789, under Louis XVI.
Facts and figures
Qasr Al Watan is part of the 380,000-square-metre Presidential Palace compound
The Palace took 150 million hours to build
5,000 geometric, vegetal and floral patterns were used in The Palace.
23-carat French gold was used for detailing on the doors of The Palace
350 hours — taken to make each door
The Great Hall measures 100 metres by 100 metres.
The main dome in the Great Hall — one of the largest in the world — measures 37 metres in diameter
Al Barza, the Majlis, is the largest room in the Palace after The Great Hall, and can hold up to 300 guests
The Library has around 40,000 books