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Spirit of the union

In honour of the UAE’s 48th National Day, we step into the halls of Etihad Museum, situated next to Union House in Jumeirah, where the signing of the treaty that united the seven emirates took place in 1971 

Etihad Museum in Dubai’s vibrant Jumeirah district bears all the hallmarks of the UAE’s forward-thinking approach. Yet stepping inside the galleries of this modern landmark is akin to journeying back in time, where you’ll discover a series of intriguing displays that chronicle the birth of the nation. Covering 2.5 hectares, the museum is divided into eight pavilions that chart the country’s transformation from a humble fishing village to a thriving modern metropolis, making it one of the best places in the region to learn more about the UAE’s past. The museum houses several collections across three buildings: the Union House (Dar Al Etihad), the Guest Palace and the Visitors Pavilion. A walk through its halls will reveal significant objects that nod to the heritage of the nation, including local art, paintings, photographs and artefacts.

At the Visitors Pavilion, permanent exhibitions can be found displayed across several halls, including one dedicated to the founding fathers. Here, rare photographs, films and personal belongings donated by the country’s leaders, such as military uniforms and medals from the Armed Forces, offer insights into the UAE’s humble beginnings. You will also discover documentaries that tell the story of the era before the formation of the federation, biographies of the founding fathers and family trees. Perhaps one of the biggest highlights is the pavilion dedicated to the UAE constitution, where the centrepiece of the museum lies – the original declaration document that marked the formation of the nation. Adorning the walls are inspirational messages from the country’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. One such quote reads: “Thanks to our ancestors who challenged the adversities of time and the misfortunes of life, due to their fortitude, our generation is living in prosperity and grace.” While every quote, artwork and artefact demands your attention, the structure these pieces are housed within is equally fascinating.

The building is grand, modern and elegant, humble yet statuesque, and stands on the site where the historic unification of the emirates took place. Its architecture mimics the shape of a manuscript, inspired by the Unification Agreement, and it is supported by seven pillars built into the museum as symbols of the pens that were used to sign the declaration document that formed the United Arab Emirates in 1971. On December 2 this year, the country marks 48 years since that historic date. Highlighting the milestones that led up to its formation, an interactive timeline is displayed inside the museum. In the 19th century, the individual emirates signed agreements with the British protectorate, resulting in the creation of the Trucial States. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pearling began to thrive before the search for oil commenced in the 1930s. By 1962, the first cargo of crude oil was exported from Abu Dhabi. Thanks to this new-found source, the wealth that the country brought in was used to develop its infrastructure, including the country’s first schools, hospitals and housing. In 1968, the British announced their departure from the Arabian Gulf, and in turn, Sheikh Zayed looked to unite the divided emirates.

On December 2, 1971, six of the seven emirates came together, and in the following year, Ras Al Khaimah would see the final pillar cemented, when it became the last Bedouin state to join the UAE. Today, the museum celebrates this journey with its huge flag waving from a 123-metre golden pole along Jumeirah Beach Road. In true UAE fashion, it draws attention with grace and splendour, and is a popular spot among visitors and locals in the city, especially during the country’s National Day celebrations. Surrounded by lush gardens, the flag draws people to spend time here, to learn about the path that took the country from a disparate group of states, comprised of Bedouin tribes, to one of the region’s superpowers. Those seeking to learn more can also benefit from the workshops conducted at the museum. These sessions take place all year round and offer insights into everything from the UAE flag to the national bird – the falcon. Through this interactive programme, the museum aims to capture the heady heights the country has reached today – a world leader in several sectors while remaining very much rooted in its origins. 

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