Mirroring history

Mirroring history

Qasr Al Watan, the Palace of Nation, gives an insight into the Arab heritage and offers a peek into its vision for the future, writes Shoma Abhyankar

Qasr Al Watan

When it comes to architecture, the United Arab Emirates boast of some of the world’s grandest structures. While Dubai, with its glittering skyline, claims to have many firsts, Abu Dhabi, the capital of Emirates, has to its credit some very opulent architectural masterpieces too.

The newest addition to the architectural landscape — Qasr Al Watan — the Presidential Palace, literally translated as ‘Palace of Nation’, has been reopened now for tourists.

A shuttle took me down the ceremonial pathway beyond the manicured landscaped lawns and gorgeous fountains and dropped me at the marbled pavilion where, against the blue skies, rose the quintessential fairy tale palace straight out of Arabian Nights.

The imposing contemporary palace built in traditional Arabian style is sprawled across 3,80,000 square-metre of land and is a working palace with offices of President, Vice President and the crown Prince and hosts state dignitaries from across the world. 

Grand architecture

The elegant and majestic structure with a white granite and limestone facade, to symbolise purity and peace, boasts of ‘The Great Hall’ 100 metres wide and as much longer. The architectural highlight of this great hall is its stunning soaring dome, the
largest in the world with a diameter of 37 metres. While Arabic calligraphy in gold adorns the exterior of the dome, the interiors with its blue, white and gold intricate patterns, stained glass panels set in the mashrabiya, the typical projecting window, an Islamic architectural feature and the sheer size just take your breath away. The decorative honeycombed corners or muqarnas, another Islamic feature of the ceiling
lend support to the dome structure of the roof. The patterns and light reflected by the four mirror cubes at four corners of the hall add to the opulence.

The palace, equipped with escalators and capsule lifts, has separate halls, about eight of them, designated for specific purposes, open for public visits. A ‘House of Knowledge’ in the east wing hosts manuscripts on ancient history of Emirates, encyclopaedias, ancient maps, astronomical observations and Holy books like Quran, Bible and David’s Psalms as a mark of tolerance. 

A huge golden oval calligraphic art piece depicting a quote by late President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, holds centre stage just outside these halls and becomes the photography frame for visitors. The richness of the palace is also visible in its humongous doors made of solid maple wood for its pale shade and durability. Handcrafted with intricate design and embellished with 23-carat French gold, each door was constructed in 350 man-hours.

When visitors are done gaping at the jaw-dropping grandeur of every design detail on the walls, ceiling and patterns of floor inside the palace, a fifteen-minute light and sound show in the palace grounds leaves them further amazed. The captivating laser show brings the Arab history and concept behind the ‘Palace Of Nation’ alive on the facade of the palace.

Walking through the columned corridors, I marvelled at how far the desert country had come from hardly any buildings some three decades ago to a land hosting the grandest and richest architecture in the world.