In their dark tents, there are some Bedouins who continue to raise their camels on the outskirts of the city, while on the Corniche - a boulevard not dissimilar from La Croisette which stretches along the seafront with its brightly lit motorways - their descendants show off their 4X4s and Ferraris. This is the reality for an Emirate that fearlessly looks towards the future and in which Italian racing cars are just as highly regarded as the Arabian dromedary camel. Unlike in the Old Continent, there is nothing shocking about showing off your wealth here, in fact, quite the contrary! Abu Dhabi’s nouveau riche drive Ferraris and Hummers to shopping centres like Yas Mall, Dalma Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall, where prestigious brands fulfil a wide array of shopping needs. They live it up at Yas Waterworld and pray at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is open to the public outside prayer times and Ramadan. In this place of worship, a real work of art, surrounded by ornamental lakes, thousands of marble flowers decorate the columns and walls, lit by massive crystal chandeliers.
A big fan of culture and education, the Sheikh dedicates a considerable budget to these areas. He has filled his Emirate with universities, including a joint venture with the Sorbonne, and museums. At Al-Bateen Mall, the Etihad Modern Art Gallery is popular with fans of contemporary art, as is its stunning Art House Café, which is well worth a visit. The Louvre, designed by Jean Nouvel in the Saadiyat Island Cultural District is due to open in 2016, alongside Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim, which is currently being built. International conductors and musicians perform during the Classical Music season (October to May) as well as after the famous Etihad Airways Formula 1 Grand Prix race.
The Sheikh is also sensitive to environmental challenges, and it was he who encouraged the introduction of a huge eco-farm right in the middle of the desert, fifteen minutes from the city centre, that produces internationally organic certified products. His Majesty also keeps a watchful eye on the development of Masdar City, an ambitious project for an eco-solar city that rose up out of the sand in 2008. When it has been completed, it is set to house around 40,000 people and around a thousand businesses. At the end of April each year, architects, designers and investors gather at the Cityscape real estate event, while every other year in February, professionals from the defence and security industry discuss their latest news at IDEX.
Abu Dhabi, one of the most enlightened of the United Arab Emirates, is also keen to preserve its historic heart, Qasr Al Hosn, the stronghold of the ruling family, and loves nothing more than attracting more and more visitors. The construction of its new airport, which, when completed, will be one of the most high-tech in the world, with a duty free area ten times bigger than the current one, proves that this beautiful desert city is ambitiously focusing on its long-term future.