The Founder’s Memorial, a permanent national tribute commemorating the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is set to welcome the public from Sunday 22 April.
Established to celebrate Sheikh Zayed’s visionary leadership and vast influence on his country and the wider world, The Founder’s Memorial invites visitors to embark on a journey of discovery into the life and legacy of the UAE’s founding father.
Through an innovative use of art, landscape, words, stories and multimedia experiences, the memorial presents a range of personal encounters with Sheikh Zayed as a man and a leader, enabling visitors to gain a deeper understanding of his values.
Situated on the Abu Dhabi Corniche, the site encompasses 3.3 hectares of beautifully landscaped public space. The memorial is free to access and will be open daily from 9am to 10pm.
The centrepiece of the space is The Constellation, a monumental artwork designed by public artist Ralph Helmick which offers a dynamic three-dimensional portrait of Sheikh Zayed.
Yousef Al Obaidli, General Manager of The Founder’s Memorial, said, "Great nations value their leaders, and this is what we have done by establishing The Founder’s Memorial. The launch of The Founder’s Memorial coincides with the commencement of the Year of Zayed, declared by President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan to mark 100 years since the birth of Sheikh Zayed. More than just a monument, the space provides a focal point where the community, and in particular young people who did not have the opportunity to know him, can gather to learn, reflect on and celebrate Sheikh Zayed’s vision and tremendous contribution to the world. His wisdom remains a guiding light for the UAE and its people, as embodied by the centrepiece of the site, The Constellation."
He continued, "The Founder’s Memorial is a new landmark and major visitor attraction in Abu Dhabi, strengthening the UAE’s position as a leading cultural destination. We look forward to welcoming international visitors to our space where they can learn about Emirati culture and heritage through a deeper understanding of the character and values of the founder of our nation. Our message today to the world is that the late Sheikh Zayed will remain in our hearts and souls."
The visitor experience will begin at the memorial’s Welcome Centre. Open daily from 9am to 10pm, it features a unique multimedia experience highlighting Sheikh Zayed’s life, legacy and values through rare film footage, together with personal stories from people that knew him. One of the highlights of the experience is when visitors have a chance to hear the voice of the late leader himself, sharing his wisdom directly through a series of audio clips and interviews. This fascinating collection offers an intimate insight into Sheikh Zayed’s character, enabling visitors to develop a deeper connection with the visionary leader.
Complimentary tours from trained Cultural Tour Guides are available in both Arabic and English. The guides lead visitors through the memorial site, inviting them to gain a deeper understanding of Sheikh Zayed.
Visitors can benefit from the Cultural Tour Guide’s rich background knowledge, all of whom are Emiratis, as they explore the memorial, learning more about the causes championed by the UAE’s founding father and the values he embodied.
In keeping with Sheikh Zayed’s love of nature, and deep commitment to nurturing the local flora and fauna, the landscape of The Founder’s Memorial features plants and shrubbery indigenous to the UAE and the Arabian Peninsula. Groves of Ghaf and Sidr trees provide moments of pause under their cool shade, while Nakhl (Date Palm), Fitnesh (Sweet Acacia), and Samr are scattered across the site.
The public plaza that surrounds the artwork, known as the Sanctuary Garden, offers a choice of seating areas and a serene ambience. The plaza serves as a dedicated space where the community can gather to reflect on The Constellation’s portrayal of Sheikh Zayed and contemplate the man and his vision.
Near the Sanctuary Garden there are more features to explore, including a water channel that symbolises the falaj – the ancient irrigation systems used by the people of the Arabian Peninsula – and a Heritage Garden where visitors will discover native plants traditionally used for their medicinal properties, such as Desert Cotton, Henna, Toothbrush Tree, Alkali Weed, Carraluma and Harmal.
No visit to The Founder’s Memorial is complete without a stroll along the elevated walkway, which offers captivating views of The Constellation, the shores of the Arabian Gulf and the city’s skyline. The path is punctuated with visionary quotes by Sheikh Zayed, offering a space for quiet contemplation of his wisdom.
Featuring 1,327 geometric shapes suspended on more than 1,000 cables, The Constellation offers a dynamic three-dimensional portrait of Sheikh Zayed that can be experienced differently from multiple vantage points. At night, the shapes shine like stars, evoking the timelessness of his vision as a guiding light for the people of the UAE. One of the largest art installations of its kind, The Constellation is unique in its use of abstract portraiture on this scale.
Ralph Helmick, the public artist behind The Constellation, said, "The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan is a unique global figure whose spirit is palpable throughout the UAE nation and beyond. Hence, it was vital that his legacy inspire the design in terms of both scope and endurance. Many facets of his dynamic personality were foundational to the artwork – from his ability to transform limited resources into a thriving economy and his role as an incubator, to his stature as the ultimate diplomat, his passion for environmentalism, his deep devotion to his family, and his unmatched popularity as a people’s leader."
Helmick continued, "My goal was to distil these qualities in an artwork that forges a real connection with the man and the leader. In the process, Sheikh Zayed’s connection to nature emerged as a particularly strong guiding principle. Even while overseeing unprecedented modernisation, he remained grounded in the physical world. The Constellation, therefore, is not a traditional figurative representation; it embodies an active re-creation of his likeness, exploring the boundaries of perception through oscillating moments of abstraction and representation that infinitely dissolve and resolve on a monumental scale. Put simply, the installation seeks to fuse the terrestrial with the celestial."
The Constellation was unveiled on 26th February in line with the national Year of Zayed initiative in an official inauguration ceremony under the directives of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai; His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces; H.H. Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Fujairah; H.H. Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mu'alla, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Umm Al Qaiwain; and H.H. Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras al-Khaimah.
The Founder’s Memorial is located at the corner of Corniche Road and 18th Street along the Abu Dhabi Corniche. The Welcome Centre will be open from 9am to 10pm. Public parking is available along 18th street.