With the UAE celebrating 50 years on December 2, we wonder how well do you know the rich history about this beautiful country? Here are some lesser known, and some unusual facts about the UAE that every resident should know.
A history as old as time
Long before the federation came about, the area was known as the Arabian Peninsula that can be traced back to 6000 B.C. Remnants of the country’s past are peppered through the various archeological sites in the country, with Hili Archaeological Park a personal favourite.
The first dirham notes were introduced in 1973 with denominations of Dh1, 5, 10, 50 and 100. Three years later the Dh1,000 note was released. The first notes issued had both Arabic and English lettering, with various landmarks of the UAE printed on them. They were similar to those that are in circulation today.
Aside from 1 fil and 5 fils coins that are not in general circulation anymore, the UAE had also minted a Dh5 coin as a limited edition. Details of these are available at the Currency Museum in Abu Dhabi.
Visa to visit Abu Dhabi from Dubai
Long before the UAE became a federation, Dubai residents required a visa to enter Abu Dhabi, which cost approximately 25 fils per person, according to UAE expat Kishore Jamnadas who has been a resident here since the 70s.
If you haven’t taken a selfie at the ‘Giant Jeep’ then what have you done in the UAE? A great place to stop on the way to or from Liwa, and some 45 kilometres south of Abu Dhabi city, is the Emirates National Auto Museum that houses around 200 cars belonging to Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan or the Rainbow Sheikh as he’s popularly known. Do make time to see the world’s largest truck that has even been featured on the BBC television programme, Top Gear.
Even though Dubai boasts gems such as Joshi Restaurant, Ravi’s and Sind Punjab that changed the culinary scene in the city, Bayt Al Wakeel stands testament to the city’s maritime history. Carrying the title of the oldest restaurant in Dubai, the Souk Al Kabeer building housing Bayt Al Wakeel was originally built as a shipping office in 1935 by Iranian mason Saji Mohd Kukhardi. Passengers who were sailing to Basra or Bombay would assemble on the ground floor of Bayt Al Wakeel to embark on the ship that was due, while the Gray Mackenzie (now MMI) office and the manager’s family lived on the upper floor of Mackenzie house off and on from 1950-1965.
First UAE mall
The UAE is known for its magnificent malls, but many are unaware the first of its kind was built in the 1980s and was named Al Ghurair Centre. Built on an empty plot of land in 1981, Al Ghurair Centre was the first modern shopping mall project of its kind in the Middle East. In 2013, Al Ghurair Centre underwent an expansion with an addition of 150 new stores.
Origins of UAE
The Rulers of the six Trucial States, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah (with Ras al Khaimah the seventh state still undecided), had decided to form the United Arab Emirates at a meeting held in Dubai on July 18, 1971. The foundation of an independent, sovereign state was formally proclaimed on December 2, 1971.
Ras Al Khaimah joins
When Ras al Khaimah joined on February 10, 1972, the federation was complete with the inclusion of all of the seven former Trucial States.
Sheikh Zayed, along with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the then Ruler of Dubai met on 18 February 1968, at Al Samha in today’s Abu Dhabi near the south-western boundary of Dubai where they agreed to merge their respective emirates into a union which others would be invited to join.
First paved road
Paved highways didn’t exist until the late 1960s. The first paved road built with the intent of people using it — other than city streets in Dubai itself — was between Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah. Construction started in 1966-67.
The first Indian and Iranian expats who ended up on the shores of the UAE landed here in the 1880s. There were welcomed by an endless, barren wasteland that held the potential of sparking a lucrative trade route between the Gulf and India.
Welcome to Sharjah
The emirate of Sharjah was where the first expats landed, building their trade and pearl businesses there before being enticed by the lure of Dubai.
History of tolerance
Tolerance was a word etched in the country’s history. As business grew, the Indian community also established its roots here with the first Hindu temple reportedly being built on the banks of Sharjah in the late 1800s. In the 1930s, the late Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum gifted land to the community which stands in Al Bastakiya neighbourhood where the Krishna temple was established — the oldest in the UAE. While stories date the establishment to 1903, official records place the construction in mid-1930s.
Donkeys hauled water
Until the 1960s, there was no real avenue of getting fresh drinking water in most of the emirates. So neighbourhood wells would be dug up and water stored in bags made of camel hide that would be ferried on the backs of donkeys.
Passenger liners from Basra, Muscat, Karachi and Bombay (now Mumbai) used to dock every Thursday on the banks of Dubai in the 1960s that would bring in the post, stories of loved ones and, more importantly, fresh vegetables for the expats living here.
Souk Al Kabeer, which sits on the banks of Dubai Creek, is one of the oldest markets in the emirate. There are several businesses still standing in the market that have been there for more than 100 years. If time permits, do take a stroll down the market, stop to buy a samosa or two and grab the abra to take you to Deira.
Story of Burj Khalifa
Dubai is a sprawling metropolis today, house the world’s tallest building in Burj Khalifa. However, the original plan for the Burj Khalifa capped the building at a mere 90 floors — a far cry from the 163 floors that stand tall in the centre of Downtown Dubai today. In the book The Sheikh CEO by Dr Yasar Jarrar, Mohammed Al Abbar, Chairman of Emaar Properties, which spearheaded the project, recalls visiting Sheikh Mohammed during those early years to negotiate a land-for-shares deal with Dubai Government.
The book describes Sheikh Mohammed quizzing Al Abbar on the plan for the tower and comparing them to the tallest towers in the world. When he discovered that the Dubai tower would be nowhere close to reaching the dizzying heights that Burj Khalifa commands today, Sheikh Mohammed refused the deal and dispatched Al Abbar to return to the drawing board and come up with a new plan. Weeks later, the Emaar head returned with a drawing of a tower that he described as “20 per cent taller than anything on the planet.” With that, Sheikh Mohammed responded with a smile, and said: “I think we can do this land swap.”
Birth of an airline
On October 25, 1985, UAE launched one its first carriers with Emirates Airline coming into existence. The Sheikh CEO recalls a story from that year, a time when the Bahrain-based Gulf Air monopolised air traffic in the region. Gulf Air was using Dubai International Airport as a hub and sought to put an end to the open-skies policy. “They wanted to protect their market share and even set us a deadline of a few weeks to comply,” the book quotes Sheikh Mohammed as saying. Without wasting a moment, Sheikh Mohammed refused the request. He facilitated renting two aeroplanes from Pakistan and created an airline that we now know as Emirates.
Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched the Dubai Metro, the world’s longest automated driverless train system and the first Metro in the Gulf region on September 9, 2009. The Sheikh CEO states the project nearly didn’t happen. The book describes the Executive Council opposing the project, calling it a “white elephant” (a useless or troublesome possession), and pointing to the fact that the city’s residents were simply not accustomed to the public transport culture. The project’s huge pricetag — Dh19 billion — was also brought up as a potential hurdle. Sheikh Mohammed reportedly heard both sides of the story. Ultimately, he took the risk by instructing the Roads and Transport Authority of Dubai to commence the Dubai Metro project at the fastest pace possible.
Ishy Biladi (Long Live My Country) is the national anthem of the UAE. It was composed by Mohammed Abdel Wahab in 1971 but the lyrics were written by Arif Al Sheikh Abdullah Al Hassan 15 years later in 1986.
The UAE national animal is not the falcon or the camel but the Arabian Oryx, which is shared with Jordan and Qatar. However, the falcon does hold the humble position of being the national bird.
Colours of the UAE flag
This country’s national flag is a mix of four colours. Red stands for power, green stands for success, white stands for peace and the black stands for dignity.
UAE's many roundabouts
The UAE was a land of roundabouts with Fish, Falcon, Flame, Lantern and the popular Clock Tower popular across all emirates. Over the years, several of them have been demolished to make way for junctions that keep in mind the growing traffic.
Flame Roundabout stills stands in Deira, which, according to historical accounts, started life as the Fire Monument built in 1969 with its flame lit by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, then Ruler of Dubai, on October 13 1969 year to mark the start of Dubai’s oil production. In 1975 as part of the Airport Road and Sharjah Road upgrade the Flame Monument was relocated.
But where is Defence Rounabout?
If old-timers ever mention Defence Roundabout to you, you don’t need to scratch your heads. Original Defence Roundabout was a simple roundabout that linked Jumeirah with the old Abu Dhabi Road and also through to the new (then) Hatta Road. It was built in the early 1970s when Sheikh Rashid was forming his army which he named Dubai Defence Force. He built barracks for on the Zabeel side of the old Abu Dhabi Road adjacent to the “new” roundabout that had been built. The roundabout soon started to be referred to as “The Defence Force Roundabout”. Sheikh Zayed Road’s No. 1 Interchange is still referred to as Defence Roundabout.
The UAE had the first police forces in the world to drive supercars. Think Bugatti Veyron, Lykan HyperSport, Aston Martin One-77, Lamborghini Aventador and more.
No river no cry
The UAE has no rivers. Think about it. In fact, none of the GCC states or the Arabian Peninsula have a river. What the UAE does boast are plenty of wadis that fill up with rain water during the winter seasons.
Making a landmark
Abu Dhabi’s Capital Gate Building leans further than Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa. The structure holds the title of the farthest manmade leaning building, which has an inclination of 18 degrees and is 160 m (524.93 ft) high. In fact, it holds a Guinness World Record for it as well.
The Palm islands, including Jumeirah, Jebel Ali, Deira, along with The World islands are all clearly visible from space.
Coat of Arms
The UAE has an official coat of arms. It displays the UAE flag surrounded by seven stars, representing the seven emirates. The falcon is also shown holding a parchment in its talons which reads ‘United Arab Emirates’ in Arabic.
The highest point in the UAE is at Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah, which stands at 1,934 metres. The place is now a tourist hub with the world’s fastest zip line.
The UAE marks its Commemoration Day on 30 November. It recognises the sacrifices and dedication of the sons of the nation, who have given their lives in the UAE and abroad in the field of civil, military and humanitarian service.
Sir Bani Yas, a natural island located off the coast of the UAE’s Western Region, was originally home to Arabia’s largest wildlife reserve and boasts the archeological find of the oldest pre-Islamic Christian site in the UAE.
In 2009, the UAE became the first country in the Middle East to host the FIFA Club World Cup tournament.
According to the Sharjah Museums, the first cinema in the UAE was located in the emirate to mainly entertain the British Royal Air Force. Images of the Sharjah Paramount cinema are there to see at the Mahatta Museum. Inaugurated in 1945 (or thereabouts) visitors would sit on empty kerosene cans filled with sand in this outdoor setup.
Abu Dhabi’s Rub Al Khali or The Empty Quarter is the sandiest desert in the world, even more than the Sahara. Legend has it that it was home to the ancient of Ubar that got lost in the sands of time following a natural disaster. It has never been found.
UAE's first school
The first school in UAE was established in Sharjah, which is Al Islah “AlTaymeya” School in 1907.
UAE's first library
The first library in UAE was established in Sharjah, which is “Al Taymeya” Library in 1933.
In 1942, Sharjah became the first emirate to provide education for women.
UAE's first airport
No, it wasn't Dubai. In 1932, the first airport in the Arabian Gulf was established in Sharjah.
Sharjah's unique geography
Sharjah is the only emirate that shares its borders with all the others in the UAE federation. It is also the only Emirate with beaches on both sides of the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
Mangroves in the UAE have grown to become the largest in the Arabian Gulf coast, covering thousands of hectares along the UAE coastline and form an important and integral part of the coastal eco system in this country. Within the UAE there are approximately 4,000 hectares of mangrove forest (of which a large part, around 2,500 hectares, are found in Abu Dhabi).
Ras Al Khaimah has seen a different identity over the decades, with the emirate previously Julfar, Majan and Al Seer. Now you know when you see signs of Julfar in RAK what it is referring to.
Ras Al Khaimah society can be conceded as a tribal society where tribes are divided into three main categories which are mountain tribes, sea tribes and desert tribes. Each category has several tribes under its “family name”.
Al Wahabiyya is a traditional dance that is unique to Ras Al Khaimah. It is performed by a group of dancers and drummers on special occasions, feast days and at wedding parties. The dance is based on a song in three sections, with the drummers standing between two rows of performers. One performer recites and repeats a line of poetry, which the others then memorise and repeat while the original performer recites another line from the poem. Accompanied by the drummers, a rhythm builds and repeats as the dancers move back and forth to the tempo. For 10 minutes the rows draw closer to each other until the conclusion of the dance.
Umm Al Quwain is the second smallest and the least populated emirate in the UAE. So, if it is quiet time you are seeking, you know where to move next.
Fujairah is home to the oldest mosque in the UAE. Al Bidiyah Mosque in Fujairah was built in the 1440s. There was no wood used in the construction of the mosque so carbon dating can not be used to find the exact date of construction. However, the Archaeological Centre of Fujairah and the University of Sydney worked together and came to the conclusion based on other examples of architecture of the period.
Fujairah is only the emirate that is located by the waters of the Indian Ocean and not on the Arabian Gulf coast. Fujairah also doesn’t have sandy deserts to its name, but instead it has magnificent mountain peaks, hot springs and deep gorges.
History of a name
It isn’t clear where the name ‘Abu Dhabi’ came from but when translated directly from Arabic, it means ‘Father of the Gazelle’. It is believed that in the past, there was an abundance of gazelles in the area that inspired the name of the emirate.