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“Our Union stems from our heritage…the Spirit of the Union paired vision with work, hence cultivating success.” – HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
The most beautiful, picturesque and tourist-worthy sights in Dubai are its historical attractions, many of which are set around the natural seawater inlet, the Dubai Creek. To understand how Dubai has come to be the trade center of the world, a visit to these heritage attractions are an eye-opening and humbling experience. In addition to their setting against sea water their old, preserved architecture, their style and feel all enhance their charm and aura.
Most importantly, the historical stories that situate them help us understand how this nation has emerged. Furthermore, these stories shed light on the landmarks in its development and the perseverance of its people. In this blog, we will read about the main heritage attractions of Dubai, their highlights and their modern day relevance. Of course, the best way to experience these are to actually walk through them with our expert guides during our signature Old Dubai & Souk Walking Tour. The primary heritage attractions in Dubai can be clubbed together based on their location:
Al Fahidi District ♦ Al Souk Al Kabeer (Bur Dubai) ♦ Al-Shindagha Historical District ♦ Historical Souks District ♦ Al-Ahmadiya Historical District ♦ Jumeirah Mosque
Together, these heritage attractions play host to traditional art and architecture in addition to many different museums, forts, traditional markets (souks), traditional boats (abras), traditional Emirati cuisines and loads of cultural references. A look at the history of this desert town makes you admire its modern day developments even more.
The info-graphic below will help you understand the location of most of the heritage attractions with reference to the always mesmerizing Dubai Creek, which offers stunning views of Bur Dubai and Deira (the two Dubai districts the Creek separates).
Built in 1859, the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood initially was the residential area of wealthy merchants. Till date, their homes are preserved to showcase the traditional Arabic home architecture with their wind-catching Barjeel. Each narrow alley in this unique district features a trip down the historical life that bustled through these characteristic streets. This is a popular stop for tourists owing to its many art cafes, restaurants, boutique hotels, and its very own Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU).
The Al Fahidi Neighborhood is a not-to-miss destination of Dubai – this is where the Dubai Museum, the famous Coffee Museum, and the Ruler’s Divan are also located. The Dubai Museum will help you travel back in time with its almost-real-life displays of what Arab life was like in the past from traditional crafts, traditional occupations such as pearl diving, to traditional clothing. In merely 45 minutes to an hour you can walk through the museum comfortably and soak in rich Emirati history.
The Coffee Museum is very popular among tourists as it features the coffee making and drinking traditions of not just the UAE but also from other parts of the world. You can also enjoy a cup of coffee with some dates inside the café and get refreshed and energized for the rest of your day of sightseeing. The Alserkal Cultural Foundation art gallery and café combo is quintessentially set up inside the winding streets of the Al Fahidi District. Furthermore, the food is exquisite, the ambience mesmerizing and the masterful artwork by local Emirati artists and other burgeoning talents from the Arab world make this center and the Make Art Café a perfect stopover destination.
Al Souk Al Kabeer was a community marketplace in Bur Dubai. It consists of the neighboring districts of Meena Bazaar (the old textile souk) and the adjacent Dubai Creek. On sale here are pashminas, carpets, harem pants, embroidered purses and sequined slippers. It also houses the Grand Mosque of Dubai. The Bur Dubai Grand Mosque, originally built in 1850, is the oldest mosque in Dubai. Furthermore,It boasts of Dubai’s tallest minaret at 70 meters height. A minaret is a tower from which the call to prayer is broadcast. The Grand Mosque features a Persian-style architecture of blue mosaic, domes in addition to its sand-colored façade.
The Dubai Creek offers a spectacular waterfront scenery for Dubai with the abras (motorized water taxis), sifting people back and forth between Bur Dubai and Deira, traditional restaurants such as Bayt Al Wakeel, sunset Dhow cruises and much more. It is interesting to note here that Bayt Al Wakeel was the first office building in Dubai. HH Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum led the efforts to dredge the creek to widen and deepen it. This Creek expansion became instrumental in positioning Dubai as a major port city in the Middle East. In addition to the waterfront of the Creek itself, the Dubai Creek Park, and the Dubai Creek The Golf Club offer many more choices of activities and fine dining.
Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House was the official residence of the Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Saaed (1912-1958). He was the grandfather of the present Ruler H.H Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum . The house is located on the Shindagha end of the Dubai Creek, and is a repository of old photographs, coins, stamps in addition to important documents. Earlier, Sheikh Saeed’s House performed many different roles in addition to being the Ruler’s residence. It was the political seat of the government, official meetings, and a place for important gatherings.
Heritage Village, at the opening of the Creek, is a space for artisans, potters and weavers to display their handicrafts. The old Diving Village is currently being renovated in an ambitious plan to transform the Shindagha Historical District into a cultural epicenter to preserve Dubai’s Heritage.
Across the Dubai Creek, on the Deira side, is the famous Spice Souk. The Spice Souk features large open displays of spices, dried fruits, and nuts such as saffron, vanilla, zaatar, and agarwood. You can even smell some refreshing menthol. As you walk past the Spice Souk, within a short distance, you find yourself in the Gold Souk.
Dubai is famous for its Gold Souk. Most visitors come here out of curiosity and eagerness to purchase some very high quality gold jewelry at very fair prices. The styles of jewelry offer a range from Western modern designs to traditional eastern sets. You can find pearls and precious stones here. Furthermore the helpful shopkeepers can help you choose something from their vast choices of ingots to intricate jewelry designs. The elaborate displays of gold are a sight in themselves.
Al – Ahmadiya School, housed in the Al-Ahmadiya Historical District, was the oldest school of Dubai, established in 1912, in Deira. In 1994, the Dubai Government restored the school by converting it to a historical museum. The museum sheds lights on the passion and emphasis on the sciences,. Furthermore it gives insights into educational efforts centered around Dubai’s traditional society. Even though resources were scarce, the efforts of traders and philanthropists helped keep up the high standard of education at the school.
The Jumeirah Mosque is one of the few mosques in the UAE that is open for public visits. It is the locus for the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding’s “Open Doors – Open Minds” program. In order to help build cross-cultural ties and understanding, the Jumeirah Mosque is open to non-Muslims as well. It is built in the Fatimi style of architecture with its two minarets standing tall and proud. A visit to this landmark mosque is a unique opportunity to learn about Islam, and the Emirati culture. Visits also feature water, dates, Arabic coffee and traditional pastries. Modest attire is recommended out of respect for the local cultural norms.
The mission of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (DubaiCulture.gov) is:
“To enrich the cultural scene by maintaining a sustainable cultural ecosystem while preserving the Emirati Heritage and nurturing talents to enhance cultural diversity and social cohesion”.
Aligning with this mission, the Heritage attractions of Dubai are all well maintained. These attractions bring their own significance and charm to the modern day developments around them.
Even Meraas, a large development group in Dubai is presently working on a new project called Al Seef. It is located right on the Bur Dubai side of the Dubai Creek where most of the Heritage Attractions are situated. This project aims at transforming the old heart of Dubai to enjoy a new atmosphere of cafes, restaurants and shops. Furthermore the shows, events and cultural activities here attract people from all over to the original historic waterfront. This is where fishermen, pearl-divers, weavers and tradesmen once came together. This respect and pride towards Emirati history and culture makes Dubai an ideal platform for diverse cultural exchange and innovation, both in the Middle East, in the Arab World, and also globally.
In the words of the wise late Sheikh Zayed, “A nation without a past is a nation without a present or a future. Thanks to God, our nation has a flourishing civilization, deep rooted in this land for many centuries. These roots will always flourish and bloom in the glorious present of our nation and in its anticipated future.”