Prior to the discovery of oil in 1958, the emirate of Abu Dhabi was basically a poor, rural wasteland. Today, it has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. The emirate is characterized by three political or geographic divisions: the city of Abu Dhabi, Al-Ain and the offshore islands.
The city of Abu Dhabi, the seat of government of the U.A.E. and the nation's second largest city, is quite modern and clean. Date palms nestled between the glass and steel high-rises give the city a bit of soul, but it is still primarily an administrative and business center. However, it is emerging as a highly desirable destination. There's a vibrant downtown with interesting streets and abundant sidewalk cafes, and a growing number of prestigious museums.
Abu Dhabi's coastal area consists primarily of swamps and salt flats, but as you go inland, the view becomes classic desert: Nomads tend their sheep (often by truck or four-wheel-drive vehicle) among the oases, date palms, sand dunes and gravel pits.
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