The fort continued to serve as the ruler’s palace and seat of government until Sheikh Zayed came to power in 1966, at which point the ruling family decamped and the fort was given over to purely administrative uses. It was eventually renovated, acquiring a bright new covering of white-painted concrete – hence its popular name of the “White Fort”. The large and rather plain whitewashed structure you see today is of no particular architectural distinction, although the rambling battlemented walls, dotted with a few watchtowers, are modestly pretty. The fort was being renovated again at the time of writing and is due to reopen as a major new museum of Abu Dhabi’s historical and cultural heritage – although no one seems to have any idea of when this might happen.
More or less at the very centre of Abu Dhabi sits Qasr al Hosn (“The Palace Fort”), the oldest building in Abu Dhabi. The fort started life around 1761 as a single round watchtower built to defend the only freshwater well in Abu Dhabi, and was subsequently expanded in 1793, becoming the residence of Abu Dhabi’s ruling Al Nahyan family. In 1939, Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan al Nahyan, the elder brother of Sheikh Zayed, began to significantly enlarge the complex using income raised from the first oil-prospecting concessions granted to foreign companies.