I first visited the Saadiyat Cultural District when Manarat Al Saadiyat opened in 2010. But Abu Dhabi’s art and museum quarter has come a long way since then. Saadiyat Island is now home to world class galleries and an annual art fair. it is regarded as the cultural hub of the Middle East, and in the long term the stated aim is to become the “largest concentration of mega museums in the world”.
Manarat Al Saadiyat
Manarat Al Saadiyat – whose name means “the place of enlightenment” – was the first gallery on Saadiyat Island. This is a contemporary space, with a mixture of pictures, sculptures, performance and installations. It includes a number of galleries used for exhibitions and special events, as well as a theatre and a restaurant.
An eye-catching part of Manarat Al Saadiyat is the UAE Pavilion. With its award winning design featuring two dune shaped peaks, this was originally displayed at Expo10 in Shanghai. Today it is an exhibition and events venue, and plays host to the annual Abu Dhabi Art Fair. Visitors of all ages are encouraged to produce their own art in the centre’s Drop-In Studio.
The Art Fair has been held here since November 2011. It 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 2017 around 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.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened in 2017 as part of a long term collaboration between Abu Dhabi and the French government. The museum showcases work from a number of French museums, but also has its own collections, including a large number of photographs. The aim of the Louvre Abu Dhabi is to bring together the best of eastern and western art, both historic and modern.
A feature of the museum is the innovative architecture. The centrepiece of the building is the huge web-patterned dome that has been designed to reflect the light, a reference to the sunlight that filters through the leaves of the palm trees that characterise this part of the world.
Future plans for the Saadiyat Cultural District
Further projects are currently in development. These include the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which will be the largest Guggenheim museum in the world. It will showcase the best of contemporary art, including Middle Eastern art of the 20th and 21st centuries. And the Zayed National Museum will tell the story of Abu Dhabi and the UAE from the earliest times to the present day. Over time this small desert island will be transformed into the largest cultural centre in the world.
In the longer term residential developments, hotels and a golf course are being built on Saadiyat Island. Environmentally friendly features have been incorporated into the project’s design, and land has 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. Alternatively, the Abu Dhabi Hop On Hop Off Bus stops at the Louvre (Island Tour – Green Route). The journey is around 5 minutes from Abu Dhabi island, and one hour from Dubai.