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Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven emirates that make up the federation of the United Arab Emirates, and Abu Dhabi City is its capital city, the seat of the UAE government, and the second-largest city in the country.

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi accounts for about 86% of the land area in the United Arab Emirates, but the majority of the people in the emirate live and work in Abu Dhabi City, which is located on an island about the size of Manhattan, just off the coast in the northeastern part of the emirate.

Outside of the air-conditioned buildings in the city, the environment is harsh. Temperatures above 100-degrees F are common, and there is very little rain. Most of the emirate consists of desert and sand dunes, with some salt flats along the coast. Abu Dhabi City grew up around an oasis formed by water from the high mountains of Yemen flowing through underground natural aquifers beneath the desert, supplying scattered sources of water to the Emirates.

Prior to the wealth provided by the discovery of oil, life could only exist at the oases, or where water could be carried in manmade channels. Today, massive irrigation systems have transformed barren desert into a lush green landscape. Due to a shortage of land suitable for building, towering skyscrapers were built and land has been reclaimed from the sea, creating artificial islands and enlarging the land area of the peninsula, particularly in downtown Abu Dhabi.

Modernization in Abu Dhabi has been rapid and dramatic. Whereas family life for many of those living in Abu Dhabi City today had once been centered around the traditions of family, tribal villages, and livestock, today they are living and working in air-conditioned highrises. While transportation within the Emirates once depended upon camels, today the city and the country boasts an impressive transportation system. Some families maintain homes in both the city and the desert, maintaining links with both worlds.

More than three-fourths of the population of Abu Dhabi City is made up of expatriate workers, and that number is growing because migration to Abu Dhabi is one of the highest in the world. The majority of migrant workers in the city come from India and the surrounding countries, but skilled service-industry workers and construction personnel from across the Arab world are also coming to Abu Dhabi, and thousands of Westerners have been attracted to the city for corporate and engineering projects.

The area upon which Abu Dhabi was formed has been inhabited since the early Stone Age. Although its past is known largely through tribal traditions, stone tools have been found dating back about 150,000 years. It is believed that the climate was cooler and wetter then.

About 10,000 years ago, a group of nomads settled along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, beginning the Mesopotamian civilizations known as the Sumerians and Babylonians. As they lacked ores, a maritime trade developed, and trade settlements were made in areas where there was an adequate water supply, and these settlements eventually became Bahrain, Qatar, and the Emirates.

During the Bronze Age, copper ore was smelted at Hili and exported from Umm an-Nar Island, on the edge of what is now Abu Dhabi City. Tombs and artifacts from that time period have been found there.

In the 1st millennium BC, iron replaced copper, and the copper centers were abandoned. By then, camels had been domesticated and used in trade and communication. A semi-nomadic lifestyle was revived, but an irrigation system was also developed, increasing agricultural production in well-watered places at the base of mountains. Small fishing villages along the coast supplemented their incomes by diving for pearls and engaging in maritime trade.

Prior to the birth of Islam in the 600s AD, there were Nestorian Christian communities in the region. However, the ancestors of Abu Dhabi's ruling family were among the Arabs who fled Yemen and settled in the Abu Dhabi region. Islam spread quickly along the desert and maritime trade routes, and the coastal and desert settlements of Abu Dhabi were quick to adopt the new religion.

By the mid-1800s, pearl fishing along the coast developed into a major industry, with Abu Dhabi exporting some of the best pearls in the world. Abu Dhabi became the dominant force within the Emirates because Sheikh Zayed the First, the Emir of Abu Dhabi, was a driving force behind the formation of the United Arab Emirates.

Oil explorations in Abu Dhabi began in the 1930s, but it wasn't until 1959 that sufficient reserves of oil were discovered, with production beginning in 1962.

The Abu Dhabi Central Capital District has its own government, separate from the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, although both are headquartered in Abu Dhabi City. Members are appointed by the Emir.

 

 

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