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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a nation of seven regions (emirates) on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman, with its coastline on the Persian Gulf. The UAE is made up of the of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Ra’s al Khaymah and Umm al Quwain. The most visited of the emirates is Dubai, although Abu Dhabi is the largest of the emirates and contains the UAE’s capital city also called Abu Dhabi. The country is mostly desert and saltpans. With an area of nearly 83 000 km², less than 1% is deemed to be arable land and less than 4% is forests or woodlands.
The earliest known human habitation of this area dates back to 5500BC, with evidence of foreign trade from around 3000BC, the major trade partners being Syria, Iraq, Oman and India. In more recent history, the Portuguese took control of much of the area for about 150 years from the early 16th Century. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, the area became known as ‘The Pirate Coast’. Bedouin raiders based along the coastline attacked passing ships, especially UK vessels. In 1820, leaders from the emirates signed a peace treaty enforced by the United Kingdom in return for British protection during sea or land attacks. The Maritime Truce of 1835 granted Britain even more control of the defence and foreign affairs of this area, leading to the UAE’s former name, ‘The Trucial States of the Persian Gulf’.
During the 1800’s, prosperity and jobs came from pearling, but the world pearl market collapsed in the early 1900’s and the Trucial States faced economic disaster. Oil came to the rescue, with exploration beginning in the 1930’s leading to the first crude oil export in 1962. Life quickly improved for inhabitants of The Trucial States and the potential for wealth and prosperity from oil mining led to unification between the emirates. When treaties with the British expired in 1971, the seven states became fully independent and united to create the United Arab Emirates during 1971 and 1972.
Today the United Arab Emirates has a highly developed economy and the sixth largest oil reserves in the world. The major cities are fascinating, glittering shopping meccas for cashed-up tourists, offering superb resorts and endless duty-free shopping that has earned the UAE a reputation for the best shopping in the world. The architecture is sleek, innovative and unique, and the city surrounds are full of lush, green parks and gardens, making it hard for tourists to believe they are in the middle of the desert. Dubai is the most wealthy, visited and cosmopolitan of the cities, and the annual Dubai Shopping Festival in January each year is fast becoming the destination for serious shopaholics!
Tourists visiting the UAE are also offered a variety of fascinating attractions that showcase the more traditional Bedouin heritage, including excursions through the sand dunes, sailing on a dhow (Arabian sailing boat), day and night camel treks with star-gazing at night, or souvenir shopping at a souq (Arabian marketplace). If you’re not into shopping or the traditional attractions, The United Arab Emirates will still astound you with its choice of things to do and see: gorgeous beaches and coral reef diving spots, fine dining and great dance venues, and magnificent mountain landscapes like Hatta.