Just how do you honour a man who changed the fortunes of millions of people forever, turning a vast desert nation into a global powerhouse brimming with opportunity and prosperity?
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan – who would have turned 100 this year – truly was the founding father of the UAE and laid the foundations for what came after.
His drive, determination and bold vision for a fledgling United Arab Emirates has left behind a legacy that will be felt not only by this generation, but many more to come.
In honour of the milestone anniversary of his birth, and the Year of Zayed, a striking memorial has been created to ensure his pioneering achievements are never forgotten.
The Founder’s Memorial, a landmark site at the Corniche near Emirates Palace, pays homage to his rich story through film, photographs, art and the jewel in the attraction’s crown, the awe-inspiring The Constellation artwork.
There is so much to see, do and discover across 3.3 hectares of land, so let’s start to explore.
It’s free to visit
You can while a way of day covering all of the attractions at the sprawling 3.3 hectares of beautifully landscaped public space. To ensure that the hugely influential figure can be celebrated by all, access is free and the memorial is open from 9am until 10pm each day.
The Welcome Centre
Where else could you start but here? Visitors are taken on a unique multimedia experience chronicling the life, values and achievements of Sheikh Zayed through rare film footage and personal stories from people who knew him. There is also a chance to hear the voice of the late leader himself, where he imparts wisdom through a series of audio clips and interviews. Complimentary tours are provided by trained Cultural Tour Guides in both Arabic and English, giving members of the public even greater insight into the roots of the UAE and the most important icon in its short but remarkable history.
Take the scenic route
In tribute to Sheikh Zayed’s love of nature and long-standing commitment to nurturing the local flora and fauna, the landscape of the memorial is lined with colourful plants and shrubbery that are indigenous to the UAE and the Arabian Peninsula. Glorious groves of ghaf and sidr trees make for a tranquil setting perfect for moments of pause and reflection under their cool shade, while date palms, sweet acacia and samr make for a picture perfect tribute to the wonder of nature in the UAE.
Go up the garden path.
The memorial’s plush public plaza, known as the Sanctuary Garden, offers a picturesque vantage point to view the incredible The Constellation. Once you have soaked in the serene ambience at a number of seating areas, there are plenty of other eye-catching features that give a nod to the past. The water channel symbolises the falaj, the ancient irrigation systems used in the Arabian Peninsula, while the Heritage Garden is home to an array of native plants traditionally used for their medicinal properties, including henna, harmal, desert cotton and the toothbrush tree.
Elevate your experience
Enjoy the true grandeur of the majestic memorial with a leisurely amble along the elevated walkway, which offers stunning views of The Constellation, the shores of the Arabian Gulf and the city skyline. While you complete your journey, you can read inspiring quotes on the path from Sheikh Zayed.
The Year of Zayed
A whole host of activities and initiatives have been put in place to mark The Year of Zayed, from the opening of art exhibitions dedicated to the ruler to cash windfalls for government workers. His Excellency Yousef Al Obaidli, who is general manager of The Founder’s Memorial, says it is a focal point for the community to learn about and celebrate the life of Sheikh Zayed Mosque.
He explains: “Great nations value their leaders, and this is what we have done by establishing The Founder’s Memorial. More than just a monument, the space provides a focal point where the community, and in particular young people who did not have the opportunity to know him, can gather to learn, reflect on and celebrate Sheikh Zayed’s vision and tremendous contribution to the world. His wisdom remains a guiding light for the UAE and its people, as embodied by the centrepiece of the site, The Constellation.
“The Founder’s Memorial is a new landmark and major visitor attraction in Abu Dhabi, strengthening the UAE’s position as a leading cultural destination. Our message today to the world is that the late Sheikh Zayed will remain in our hearts and souls.”
Made up of a staggering 1,327 geometric shapes suspended on more than 1,000 cables and weighing more than 250 tons, the bare numbers alone (however impressive) cannot do justice to the awesome sight before your eyes. The fantastic three-dimensional portrait of Sheikh Zayed is testament to the dedication, inspiration and no shortage of perspiration of artist
The gigantic artwork can be viewed from multiple vantage points and, at night, the shapes appear like stars, acting as a shimmering symbol of Sheikh Zayed’s role as a guiding light for the country.
The Constellation is one of the largest art installations of its kind and is unique in its use of abstract portraiture on such a scale.
Helmick says of his work: “The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan is a unique global figure whose spirit is palpable throughout the UAE nation and beyond.
“Hence, it was vital that his legacy inspire the design in terms of both scope and endurance;” he says.
When to visit
The Founder’s Memorial is open daily from 9am to 10pm. It is located at the site on the intersection of 1st and 2nd Street on the Abu Dhabi Corniche and is free to the public. www.thefoundersmemorial.ae