Travel

With UAE’s 48th National Day coming up, the city is embracing its past

A view of old Dubai from the creek

A view of old Dubai from the creek   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

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In Dubai, old is gold

Dubai may be well known as a hip holiday destination with its numerous beaches, architectural marvels and luxurious malls. But in the run-up to the UAE’s 48th National Day on December 2, the administration is pulling out all stops to promote the Emirate as a cultural hub, in a bid to woo those with a taste for heritage, art and design.

National Day celebrations this year will focus on the key aspects of Dubai’s evolution and showcase Emirati lifestyle, hospitality, heritage and culture. With the theme ‘Legacy of Our Ancestors,’ activities on offer include walking tours of heritage neighbourhoods, camel racing and yola dance, among others.

Mohammed Kazim, an Emirati businessman who is passionate about promoting Dubai’s heritage and has registered himself as a tour guide, says, “We were made to believe for several years that we have nothing, but we indeed have so much to offer. Dubai, being a coastal region, has been at the crossroads of civilisation for many centuries.”

According to Dubai Tourism officials, places like Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Dubai Creek, Al Marmoom Bedouin Camp, Alserkal Avenue and Jameel Arts Centre offer a wide range of experiences for history, art and culture aficionados.

Heritage sites

At Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, experience traditional life in Dubai from the mid-19th Century to the 1970s. Old residential buildings are aligned side by side with high air towers (Barajeel), built using traditional building material like stone, gypsum, teak, sandalwood, fronds and palm wood. This neighbourhood, owing to its strategic location at Dubai Creek, played an important role in managing Dubai and organising its commercial relations overseas. The residences here have been taken over by the government and painstakingly restored to their past glory.

“These air towers are unique to the area. They capture air from outside and circulate it inside the houses. The design style and direction of each tower is different. One does not obstruct the air flow of another. The towers also represent the economic status of each household. The bigger the house, the larger will be the number of Barajeels,” says Kazim, during a walking tour of the neighbourhood.

Visitors can also stop by the remains of the old enclosure wall, Dubai’s Old Wall, a structure that was built around 1800 AD. They can then walk towards Dubai Museum, believed to be the oldest existing building in the city. Showcasing Dubai’s history and its original heritage, a visitor here can get a glimpse of everyday life before the discovery of oil.

With UAE’s 48th National Day coming up, the city is embracing its past

Right next to the neighbourhood is the Dubai Creek, once a bustling port on the trade route between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. Considered the lifeblood of the city for generations, it continues to entice visitors. For AED1 (US$0.27), tourists can hop aboard one of the many traditional boats or abras to cross the creek that separates Bur Dubai from Deira, Dubai’s city centre. Hop off the abra, and walk straight into the old spices market and then to the famed gold souk, where you can spend an entire day, depending on how deep your pockets are.

Also located near the Dubai Creek is Al Seef heritage district. The beautifully restored buildings retain the charm of old Dubai, while being home to contemporary restaurants, boutiques and cafes. Tourists can explore the open-air floating market, Emirati art spaces and pop-ups dedicated to local cuisine here. It’s especially photogenic after dusk.

Munira Al Bastaki, a Dubai Tourism official, says Dubai is a destination that can be visited multiple times for multiple types of experiences. “The Dubai you see may not be the same city which you visited a couple of years ago,” she says, adding “It’s constantly evolving. Though Dubai keeps changing, we want to retain the essence of the real Emirati life.”

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 3:09:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/in-dubai-old-is-gold/article30096374.ece

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