Al ‘Ayn is a city in the eastern part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in the eastern part of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the UAE’s seven states. Al ‘Ayn occupies an oasis at the edge of the Al Ḩajar al Gharbī mountain range, 160 km (100 mi) from the southern coast of the Persian Gulf. Al ‘Ayn is a center of UAE agricultural production, especially dates. Dairy and chicken farms are also found in the area. The city is linked by a modern highway system with the rest of the UAE and the other gulf Arab states, and it has a recently constructed international airport.
Al ‘Ayn is home to the United Arab Emirates University (founded in 1976). The picturesque fortress from which this part of Abu Dhabi was once ruled is now a museum with artifacts tracing the area’s history from more than 5000 years ago. The city also has one of the world’s largest zoos, a favorite project of the Abu Dhabi ruler and UAE president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan.
Recent archaeological work has revealed the presence of a highly developed culture in Al ‘Ayn and its environs dating from 3200 bc. It was connected by trade routes to ancient Mesopotamia and other centers of the ancient world. In modern history Abu Dhabi, Oman, and Saudi Arabia have disputed ownership of the area, partly because of suspected oil deposits. The borders were settled in 1974. As Abu Dhabi later gained enormous wealth from oil, Al ‘Ayn grew from a cluster of villages with a few thousand inhabitants in the 1960s to a large, modern city. Population is (2002 estimate) 328,000.