Yas Island: Frames from Arabian artistry

/ New Delhi
Yas Island
Yas Island: Frames from Arabian artistry

Qasr Al Watan is the Presidential Palace of the United Arab Emirates, and an important architectural and cultural landmark in Abu Dhabi (Photos: Triya Ghosh)

Although primarily known as an adventure and leisure hub in the GCC heart, Yas Island in UAE is also keen to position itself as a cultural destination, with an assortment of museums and other cultural venues.
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Curious, I tried to peek inside the crowded area in the Great Hall. Encircled by shutterbugs was a giant, golden sculpture, interlaced with signature Arabian inscriptions in Qasr Al Watan. It was aptly named the ‘Power of Words’, as the idea behind the oval monument was to let visitors enter and experience it from the inside.

Mirroring Arabian cultural legacy, the sculpture was woven out of a popular Arabic saying:

Wealth is not money or oil, wealth lies in people and it is worthless if not dedicated to serve the people.

Qasr Al Watan or the Palace of Nations is the Presidential Palace of the United Arab Emirates, and is an important architectural and cultural landmark in the country, located in Yas Island, a destination in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Most tourists would recognise it as the adventure hub of the country, with a whole host of adventure theme parks like Ferrari World or the recently opened SeaWorld Yas Island Abu Dhabi.

But over the past few years, Yas Island has been trying to diversify its tourism offer, partly to attract the culturally inclined visitors but also to get the current tourists stay a bit longer by adding cultural icons like the Qasr Al Watan or indeed the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Building on the immense wealth of art that the Arabian peninsula boasts of, Yas Island dons a unique mix of the Occident and the Orient culture.

India Outbound was recently invited on a visit to explore the cultural attractions of Yas Island.

Inside Qasr Al Watan’s tapestry of motifs

The first thing that strikes the visitors to the Presidential Palace is larger-than life dimension of everything here. The huge palace has a built up area of over one million sqm, with intricate stone work to go with and its decorative elements stand as a testament to the culture and artisanal finesse widely available in the Arab world.

Yas Island

Qasr Al Watan has a built up area of over one million sqm

The palace is adorned by hues reminiscent of the UAE’s essence. While blue represents the waters of the Arabian Sea, yellow depicts the deserts and white signifies purity and peace. Lush courtyards give way for the larger than life, regal craftsmanship that took seven years to complete the construction of the monument in 2017.

Arabesque calligraphy swirls inside while its entire shimmering white façade, made of white granite and limestone, is both enduring and heat repellent. Inside, is a colossus central dome with a 37-metre diameter, said to be one of the largest in the world.

The chandelier is made of 350,000 pieces of crystal and its Great Hall has played host to global dignitaries. The palace walls and archways carry a fine myriad of mosaic patterns and ornamentation to distinctly remind the visitors of its Emirati craftsmanship. Among its many attractions in Qasr Al Watan is a light and sound show that unfolds in three acts, setting the ‘Palace in Motion.

Meeting of two worlds at Louvre Museum

Beyond a verdant expanse by the sea in Saadiyat Island, about 25 minutes’  drive, sits yet another cultural icon of the UAE, the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The museum offers an ideal mix of the Occident and the Orient. What began as France’s largest cultural project abroad and the result of an unprecedented partnership between France and UAE is today the largest and most visited art museum in the Arab world. Not just a flat translation of its French counterpart, the museum is constructed over an area of 97,000 sqm over eight years of construction work that condensed into this masterpiece when the museum was inaugurated in 2017.

Yas Island

The ‘Rain of Light’ effect is one of the defining features of Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi

Even though it was soon after dawn, the summer sun shimmered on azure Arabian waters through dappled ceiling of the floating mueseum. ‘A rain of light’, as its creator, French architect Jean Nouvel describes it. Louvre Abu Dhabi’s ultra-contemporary architectural design amidst Middle Eastern white beaches exudes the idea that Nouvel was trying to engender.

The Call to Arms by Auguste Rodin

The centrepiece of Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Nouvel’s vision is a vast silvery dome that appears to float above the museum. Inside, stories of human creativity blurred lines between the East and the West. Displayed in 12 galleries and over varied collections, some of the seminal pieces here include The Call to Arms by renowned 19th century French sculptor Auguste Rodin, A Girl Blowing On A Brazier by another French maestro Georges de La Tour, The Moon-Woman Cuts the Circle by American genius Jackson Pollock and Gelb-Rot-Blau by Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky.

With a fine selection of 120 masterpieces, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection succinctly encapsulates thousands of years of human creativity independent of cultures and continents. Included in the collections here are ancient copies of the Quran to have survived to the present day Page of the Blue Quran, Bodhisattva from modern-day Pakistan, 1858 photograph Pasha and Bedouin by British photographer Roger Fenton, Flemish Baroque painting master Jacob Jordaens’ The Good Samaritan and Joseph of Arimathea Tivoli sculpture as well as Japanese painter Kazuo Shiraga’s Chirisei Kyubiki, Louvre’s collection has succeeded in bringing together two worlds under one roof.

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