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I first visited Saadiyat Island, centre of Abu Dhabi’s ambitious new cultural district, two years ago, when the first gallery opened. Madinat Al Saadiyat was, then as now, a very contemporary gallery, with a mixture of pictures, sculptures, performance and installations. It is now host to the annual Abu Dhabi Art, which I visited in November, where galleries and artists from around the world display their work, and where serious collectors come to buy.But it doesn’t stop there. In the next 10 to 20 years the island is due to become home to the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which will house extensive permanent exhibitions, as well as a number of other venues. Over time this small desert island will be transformed into the largest cultural centre in the world.

Manarat Al Saadiyat, 2010
Opening exhibition at Manarat Al Saadiyat, 2010

Galleries of Saadiyat Island

The development of Saadiyat Island is a long term venture, stretching as far as 2030, but the island is worth visiting now for its two completed galleries: the UAE Pavilion and Manarat Al Saadiyat. Manarat Al Saadiyat – whose name means ‘the place of enlightenment’ – contains a number of galleries used for exhibitions and special events, as well as a theatre and a restaurant. It has one permanent exhibition: The Saadiyat Story, an interactive display of the island’s past, present and future. A projection of Saadiyat to 2030 shows the innovative architecture of the new galleries and other buildings.

Manarat Al Saadiyat
Manarat Al Saadiyat

The UAE Pavilion is an exhibition and events venue, used for the annual Abu Dhabi Art exhibition. The building, with its award winning design featuring two dune shaped peaks, was originally displayed at Expo10 in Shanghai.

UAE Pavilion, Abu Dhabi
UAE Pavilion

Exhibitions at Saadiyat

There is a regular programme of exhibitions, events and workshops at Manarat Al Saadiyat. One of the biggest is the annual Abu Dhabi Art, held here since November 2011. This brings together artists, collectors (some of whom are prepared to spend surprisingly large amounts of money) and casual visitors, who are given free entry to wander around and admire the dazzling and eclectic displays. In 2012 over 50 major galleries from the Middle East and across the rest of the world took part in Abu Dhabi Art. The event also includes talks, workshops and live performances.

Abu Dhabi Art 2012
Abu Dhabi Art 2012

Interactive installations are a major feature at Manarat Al Saadiyat. The current event (The Island/ A Game of Life, due to run until 6 January 2013) uses a mixture of performance and installations to explore the theme of islands in art, literature and culture.

Future plans for Saadiyat


The ambitious future plans include the construction of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a performing arts centre and a maritime museum. The Zayed National Museum will be devoted to the life of the city’s farsighted founding father. The island will also feature residential developments, hotels and a golf course.

Environmentally friendly features have been incorporated into the project’s design. Land has also been set aside for the preservation of the mangrove forests, and of the grassy dunes in which Hawksbill turtles have their breeding grounds.

Visiting Saadiyat Island


The island can be reached by taxi or private car, and there is plenty of free parking available. The journey is around 5 minutes from Abu Dhabi island, and one hour from Dubai.

Food and drink may be bought in the ultra modern Fanr Restaurant, which serves international cuisine including steaks, soups and camel burgers. You can finish off with one of the tempting array of homemade cakes.


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