Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

Landmark Abu Dhabi souq set to be demolished

The closure of Zaab market has led to an outpouring of nostalgia on social media

An Abu Dhabi landmark that dates back to the days before shopping malls is set for demolition, prompting an outpouring of nostalgia among long-time residents.

Zaab souq - a small strip mall in Khalidiyah dating to the late 70s or early 80s - closed about two months ago. Abu Dhabi Municipality could not be reached for comment but workers in the nearby shops confirmed news of the demolition.

The building was in disrepair and the handful of shops have shut, hoardings erected and workers were at the site on Wednesday. Staff at the popular KFC branch have moved to the adjacent Khalidiyah Mall, while the laundry has moved to another neighbourhood. It is still not clear what - if anything - will be built in its place.

Scores of people have now taken to social media to share memories of the souq. Most lament the loss of a landmark yet many feel these changes are inevitable.

Abu Dhabi didn’t have the massive malls then. You had to engage with local shops

Tim Pick, who lived beside the souq from 1997-2000

But all agree Zaab souq represented a simpler time when community life did not revolve around air-conditioned malls or glass high-rise towers.

“Abu Dhabi didn’t have the massive malls then,” said Tim Pick, 46, who lived in an apartment beside the souq from 1997 to 2000.

“You had to engage with local shops. These days it is high end.”

Several of these strip malls were built across the city during this time as Abu Dhabi was expanding rapidly. Few survive.

“I’m quite nostalgic for those days,” said Mr Pick, a British lawyer.

“That strip mall is a classic example of the 1980s expansion – it is a bit old and shabby and tired but it is a shame they are being lost. It is inevitable but it is sad.”

Zaab souq opened in the late 70s or early 80s. The building is now in poor condition but the architecture is typical for this era and sympathetic to its environment.

Zaab souq is a classic example of a late 1970s or early 1980s building. John Dennehy / The National
Zaab souq is a classic example of a late 1970s or early 1980s building. John Dennehy / The National

Built of concrete - a material much more suitable for Abu Dhabi’s harsh summers as it absorbs heat – the design incorporates local motifs such as arches and crenellations. A riwaq, or arcade, offers welcome shade from the sun.

“I was born and raised in Abu Dhabi and my memories of the strip start from my childhood in the late 90s,” said Yasmin Hamad, 25, an urban designer originally from Sudan. “But my most vivid memories revolve around picking or dropping off laundry at New Al Zaab Laundry. They would recognise and chat with everyone who dropped by,” said Ms Hamad.

In the days before Yas Island’s theme parks, children played under the concrete arches and neighbours met for a cup of steaming karak chai in one of the souq’s cafes.

The area around the souq is know as Al Zaab. Emirati Fahad Al Zaabi grew up there and remembers it as the only place to meet friends after school.

“We had no mall or shopping centre so we went there,” said Mr Al Zaabi, 33. “It is part of my childhood but they needed to change it. It was very old and they need modern buildings.”

Today, many of these older buildings that survived from the first wave of construction in the late 70s are either being torn down or replaced. In neighbourhoods such as Khalidiyah and Tourist Club, the buildings that allowed the army of workers to build the growing Abu Dhabi are disappearing. Some wonder if it is possible to preserve such buildings.

“These type of small strips of shops are a part of the history of the construction and development of Abu Dhabi,” said Mary Morgan, a Briton, who lived nearby in the 2000s.

“I would prefer to see it preserved or refurbished so it could continue to be shops for local residents.”

But Zaab souq today stands empty. Birds have nested under the concrete canopy where children once played, an old public telephone stands forlornly by one pillar, while the tables of a small café no longer have any customers.

“Whatever its fate, it seems the old Zaab souq has served its purpose,” said Ms Hamad. “It will be remembered fondly by everyone who had frequented it throughout its lifetime.”

Updated: August 15, 2019 12:31 PM

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