While in Dubai recently for a friend’s wedding, a few college friends and I hopped into a rental for a day trip to Abu Dhabi, where we toured the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a towering construction of archways, domes, and minarets, the exterior a pristine white and the interiors an expanse of ornate columns and chandeliers, hushed by an endless spread of patterned carpet.

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Similar to many of the other things in the UAE, the Grand Mosque is also relatively new, completed in 2007 after 11 years of construction.  Initially, you try and flesh out the oddity of this immense building in the capital city of a young nation, especially when contrasted with the (often centuries of) antiquity of other famous places of worship, but the Mosque’s scale and opulence makes you forget about those details.  Sure, there aren’t stories of long-ago patron saints or the mysterious darkness of crypts and exposed wood, but in contrast the Mosque in its newness spoke of dreams – it didn’t carry any hushed history, no centuries-old folklore, but instead reflected the enormous, hopeful vision of a new country and its leader.

Earlier, we’d walked around the rooftop of the Souk at Central Market, whose inner hallways and atriums are shaded by wooden lattices and stained glass.  The rooftop also had rows and rows of these unexplained metal orbs, and a bar and an outdoor hookah lounge, from which one can see the skyscrapers come up next door.

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We also visited Saadiyat Island, which is another sun-drenched extension of that same vision.  Abu Dhabi has imported big names in the art world (Guggenheim, the Louvre) and commissioned breathtaking architectural works to house parts of these museums’ collections on Saadiyat Island.  I’m very curious to see how the various projects evolve toward completion, which for many of the projects are still many years away.