Abu Dhabi: Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE, has been widely credited for modernising his country and received many international accolades for his humanitarian and conservation efforts.

The Zayed Centre helps visitors gain an understanding of his life and times.

It houses many personal items of Shaikh Zayed, some of which may cause visitors to raise their eyebrows in surprise. For example, did you know that Shaikh Zayed was an avid photographer? And that he also enjoyed recording home videos?

"Shaikh Zayed, may he rest in peace, used to love to borrow the still and video cameras of his personal photographer. He would then photograph or video anything that he found to be interesting," Juma Al Darmaki, manager of the Zayed Centre, said.

"There are many intimate family photographs that are being showcased here for the first time to the public. One is an image of when Shaikh Zayed went with a delegation to visit Jabal Hafeet in Al Ain. A drilling company hit a spring. Because there was so much water, a small lake was formed. Shaikh Zayed wanted to know how deep it was, so he made his son Omar jump in and raise his arm so they could measure the water level," he added, laughing.

The centre also houses other artifacts, such as Shaikh Zayed's official cars, gifts, various perfumes and many other items.

While Shaikh Zayed is known for his generosity in donating money towards charity or other worthy causes, one donation that was not known by members of the public, until now, was his monetary contribution to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) in the US.

"He was always interested in anything that would help advance mankind. After the first successful walk on the moon, both US astronaut Neil Armstrong and a representative of the Russian space programme came to the UAE. They gave Shaikh Zayed a model of a space rocket and a piece of moon rock in thanks for his donations," Al Darmaki explained.

He pointed to a photograph showing Shaikh Zayed looking intently at the space rocket model, as Armstrong appears to be explaining various aspects of the rocket.

Among all the photographs and objects showcased at the Zayed Centre, there is one thing that remained dear to Shaikh Zayed's heart: being awarded the Gold Panda certificate by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in recognition for all of his environmental efforts.

Shaikh Zayed's passion for his culture and heritage are celebrated at the centre. Numerous photographs, from camel racing to falconry, can be seen.

"Shaikh Zayed was always keen about preserving the culture and heritage of the UAE, even as he paved the way to modernise the country," Al Darmaki said.

"That balance is the enduring legacy of Shaikh Zayed, which will remain for future generations."

Visitor information

Full name: Zayed Centre for Justice

History: It has been opened to the public since April 22, 2009, and aims to provide a glimpse into the life of founder of the UAE, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. While parts of the centre are complete and open for visitors, there are others that are still under construction. The centre is due to be fully complete in early 2010.

Timings: Saturday-Thursday, 8am-1pm and 4pm-8pm.

Telephone: 02 665 9555

Details: Workshop

As part of National Day celebrations, the Zayed Centre has commissioned six painters from various countries including Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan and China to paint six unique portraits of Shaikh Zayed as part of a workshop. It began on November 24 and will run until December 13.