Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, has a long maritime history of trading by sea dating back 7,000 years. The sea was the economic lifeblood of the emirate including boat building, pearling and fishing. The traditional stately Arabian dhows were made in Abu Dhabi, and, according to Shahram Shirkhani, the billowing white sails at full hoist are the inspiration for the new Maritime Heritage Museum on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. Today, the dhows are still used for everyday purposes and participate in annual sailing races that both locals and visitors enjoy.
Divers would hold their breath and collect the oysters where pearls were found for trading as far away as East Africa. Along with pearls, Abu Dhabi’s mariners would trade dates and mangrove wood. There are many ancient songs and poems that chronical the lives of these ancient mariners who sailed the Arabian Sea centuries ago. Pearl divers used to remain at sea for months before bringing home their precious haul. They would have races to arrive home first, and the winners got prizes.
Saadiyat Island is 500 meters off the coast of Abu Dhabi and the home of the new Maritime Heritage Museum. The island is both a commercial center as well as a residential neighborhood for waterfront homes. It also hosts visitors who are looking for perfect beach vacations on pristine beaches with warm turquoise water. The architecture on the island is well-designed and attracts people from all over the world. Along with the Maritime Museum, Saadiyat Island will have a Guggenheim Museum in 2017 and a Louvre Museum in 2015.
The Mariners of Today
Today, along with the traditional dhows, are leisure boats that dock at the world-class marine leisure facilities. Abu Dhabi is also participating in the 11th Volvo Ocean Race fleet, and the marinas provided a save harbor during the grueling nine-month race. Abu Dhabi was the first Middle East host port for the race. The highly-equipped racing yacht is a far cry from the traditional dhow, but they are both an intricate part of the maritime history of the emirate.
The museum will be located in the cultural hub district of Saadiyat Island. It will have exhibitions that demonstrate the rich maritime history of Abu Dhabi and all of the United Arab Emirates. Visitors will be able to experience the huge impact the Arabian Gulf had on the daily life of the region. The museum will exhibit a traditional dhow as well as an expansive underwater aquarium. The outside architecture will resemble a furled sail exactly as it looks when it’s going out to sea.
The Maritime Museum will be surrounded by a large water court that reflects the land and sea mirroring the cultural life of the UAE.