The Emirate of Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate by area (67,340 km²), accounting for approximately 86% of the total land area of the United Arab Emirates and second-largest by population (after Dubai). Settlement of the region goes back to the third millennium BCE and the nomadic people lived mainly by herding and fishing.
In 1761 Bedouin of the Bani Yas tribe came from the Liwa Oasis to the south, settled in what is now Abu Dhabi city and took control of the coast as far as Dubai. In the 19th century Dubai and Abu Dhabi parted and became separate Emirates. The economy of Abu Dhabi until the mid-20th century was mainly camel herding, growing dates and vegetables at the inland oases of Al Ain and Liwa, and fishing and pearl diving off the coast of Abu Dhabi city. Although the first oil concession was granted in 1939 and oil was first pumped in 1958, Abu Dhabi's ruler Sheikh Shakhbut Bin-Sultan Al Nahyan did not use the revenue to develop the country. In 1966 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan replaced his brother Sheikh Shakhbut as ruler of Abu Dhabi and started using the oil revenues for development. Sheikh Zayed became the main driving force behind the formation of the United Arab Emirates and its first President.
In 1961 the first paved road was completed. Now there are highways from Abu Dhabi leading into the interior. In a few hours Liwa Oasis can be reached, with a modern town, Mezaira'a, at its centre. A road leads through a landscape of barren sand dunes to Tal Mireb ("Horrifying Hill"), a dune nearly 300 metres high; it is supposedly the highest dune in the Rub' al Khali, the "Empty Quarter", the largest sand desert in the world stretching from here across Saudi Arabia as far as Oman and Yemen, making four wheel drive dune bashing a favourite activity. Looking stark in the desert are the small whitewashed villages like Mandar Shah and Hameem.
Along the road between Abu Dhabi City and Al Ain is a "Desert Safari" Tourist Camp where tourists can visit a camel farm, go on a roller-coaster ride on a four-wheel drive among the dunes or on a more sedate camel ride led by a bearded man on foot. Evening entertainment is a feast complete with belly-dancing by women imported from abroad!