After taking a tour of the breathtaking modern wonders of Dubai, step back in time and discover the city’s rich heritage and culture. You’ll be surprised to see how Dubai has transformed drastically and yet maintained its strong foundations of the past. In fact, the city’s customs are firmly rooted in Islamic traditions, providing strength and inspiration to all aspects of everyday life.
Little is known about the first settlers in Dubai. However, archaeological discoveries prove that as long as 4,000 years ago, small fishing communities lived along the coast of the Arabian Gulf. Records dating back to the 18th century show that Dubai was a small fishing and trading village inhabited by members of the Bani Yas tribe, one of the most renowned tribes of Southern Arabia. In 1833, Sheikh Maktoum bin Buti began the reign of the Maktoum family as rulers of Dubai and transformed this small town into a flourishing coastal city. By the late 1870s, Dubai became the principal port on the Gulf coast, and by the turn of the century, it was reputed to have had the largest souqsin Arabia.
The famed nomadic tribes of the Bedouins travelled on camels, which were rightly called the ‘ships of the desert’. Falconry, camel racing and horse riding were some of the traditional pastimes for men, which are still popular today. The main occupational activities that were undertaken in this era included camel herding, date farming, fishing, dhow building and pearl diving.
For over hundred years, Dubai’s national dress has suitably adapted to the region’s climate. The white ankle-length, loose-fitting garment worn by men is known as the kandoura. Local women, on the other hand, wear a long-sleeved, full-length, black abayah, and underneath wear a kandoura, which is skillfully embroidered in gold, silver or coloured thread. They are very fond of jewellery and customarily adorn themselves with gold and silver necklaces, forehead decorations, earrings, bracelets, anklets and rings.
Every neighbourhood has its own mosque where the faithful gather for prayer, five times every day. One of the largest and most beautiful mosques is the Jumeirah Mosque, which is a spectacular example of modern Islamic architecture. A special tour of the mosque is organised once a week by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Visit this mosque to learn about rituals and customs. Beautifully crafted in medieval Fatimidstyle, the mosque is particularly attractive at night with its soft lighting.
Take a tour of the many historic buildings and sites, which will give you a stunning glimpse into the grandeur of the past.
Start with the Dubai Museum, which is situated in Al Fahidi Fort. The Fort was built in the early 19th century and is thought to be the oldest building in Dubai. Walk past the impressive front door and take a look at the magnificent display of aerial photographs showing the city’s growth over the years. Peek into the traditional Arabian houses called barasti, which were made from the trunk and leaves of palm trees. Step back in time as you stroll through the narrow corridors that innovatively re-create the scenes of a typical souq, mosque, school, marine life and activities of the pearl divers. After that, take a look at the galleries that exhibit traditional weapons, flora and fauna, and various artifacts recovered from graves dating back to the third millennium BC.
As you walk through Heritage Village in Al Shindagha, observe the traditional Bedouin and coastal village life, which has been re-created, right down to the barasti homes and traditional coffee house. Try the delicious, fresh ragaag (flat, grilled bread made of flour and water) prepared by the local women. Don’t forget to buy some traditional handicrafts, Bedouin jewellery and pottery, which make excellent souvenirs. Adjacent to the Heritage Village is the Diving Village, which has remarkable displays of pearl diving and authentic models of various types of dhows and pearling boats.
Enter the official residence of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum, who was a former Ruler of Dubai from 1912 to 1958. This 30-room house was built in 1896 during the reign of Sheikh Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum. For many years it served as a communal residence for the Maktoum family. Sheikh Saeed lived here from 1888 until his death in 1958. The house was reopened as a museum in 1986 and displays a rare collection of historic photographs, coins, stamps and documents that record the city’s significant history.
Built in 1916, the Sheikh Obaid bin Thani House is located in Al Shindagha area near Sheikh Saeed’s House. Spanning an area of 1,250 sq m, this two-storey house is made of stone and mud with traditional style windows, doors and façades.
March down to the first school of Dubai – Al Ahmadiya School, located in Al Ras area of Deira. This two-storey building was attended by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Turned into a museum detailing early education in the city, note how the classrooms of the school lead to a central courtyard, and verses of the Noble Quranare inscribed above each doorway.
Just a few steps away from Al Ahmadiya School, stands the Heritage House. Built in the 1890s, this was once home to a wealthy Iranian merchant. Inside, find yourself in a large courtyard surrounded by more than ten large rooms and a traditional wind tower. Rich heritage
Built around 1955, the MajlisUm-Al Sheif was attended by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who was widely known as the ‘Father of Dubai’. Here he would listen to people’s complaints, grievances and ideas. The majlisalso was a summer retreat and features a traditional palm tree garden with a falajirrigation system.
At the Bastakiya, push open the old wooden doors of the traditional courtyard houses with wind towers to get a rare and enthralling glimpse of yesteryear. Wind towers are a traditional and unique form of air-conditioning structures whereby cool air is funnelled down into the house.
Nestled among the Hajjar Mountains and overlooking a fertile oasis, the 16th century Hatta Heritage village is worth a visit. Observe the village architecture that embraces the Hatta Fort, two watchtowers, a mosque and some houses constructed of stone, mud, reeds and palm tree trunks.
Built around 1870, the Burj Nahar was one of the many watchtowers that guarded the old city of Dubai. Restored in 1992 with picturesque gardens, this is truly a photographer’s delight. Bait Al Wakeel Built in 1934 by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Bait Al Wakeel was the first office building in Dubai. Situated by the Creek, the building has been completely restored and now houses a museum that is dedicated to Dubai’s fishing and maritime traditions.
Take in the splendid architecture of the old buildings lining the Bur Dubai side of the Creek. The traditional façades of these buildings have been restored to their original glory with wooden windows, decorative gypsum panels and screens.
Wander through the narrow lanes of the traditional souqssituated in Bur Dubai and Deira. Take in the aromas of spices, nuts and dry fruits at Deira’s Spice Souqand then go on to the glittering Gold Souq nearby. If you are looking for quality fabrics, then the Textile Souqat Bur Dubai is the best place to stop by and complete your shopping needs.
There are four main excavation sites in Dubai at Al Qusais, Al Sufooh, Jumeirah and Hatta. The first two are graveyards dating back more than 2,000 years. These sites are not open to the public. However, if you are interested in visiting them, you must obtain a special permit from the Dubai Museum. Union House Located in Jumeirah, visit the impressive replica of the Union House, which was constructed to honour the site where historic documents forming the UAE were signed in 1972, thus heralding a new beginning of growth and prosperity.
So from age-old heritage of the past to modern architecture of the present, you’re sure to find it all in the multifaceted city of Dubai.
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