Take a glimpse of Dubai’s past before the rise of towering skyscrapers in the Al Fahidi (or Al Bastakiya) historical district. The oldest structure here is the fort of the same name, constructed in 1787 as a fortified residence for the monarch. In 1971, the Dubai Museum was established in the fort building. Adjacent to the fort is the house of Sheikh Said al Maktoum, constructed in 1896 and renovated several times since then. This is where the current ruler of Dubai, Vice President, and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was born. You can explore the house, move from room to room, observe household and interior items, step into the courtyards, or climb the terrace for a breathtaking view of the Dubai Creek.
In Al-Fahidi, traditional Arabic-style buildings have been preserved (although much of it has been rebuilt) using sandstone, gypsum, teak, sandalwood, and palm wood. These houses are characterized by wind towers (barjeel), designed to allow wind to enter the room and cool it. This invention is essential for the Dubai climate, where summer temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius, and even modern architects use barjeels. For instance, the Madinat Jumeirah, one of Dubai’s iconic hotels, uses wind towers for cooling alongside modern air conditioners. One of these traditional houses is home to Dubai’s first contemporary art gallery, Majlis, which was opened in 1989 by Briton Alison Collins. The gallery is an interesting example of how expats, who come to Dubai for a couple of years, stay here for decades, and their business becomes part of the local cultural landscape.
As you walk through the historic center, you can stroll to the Creek and the pier with wooden boats called “abrams” that ply the canal between Al Fahidi and Deira, another old part of Dubai. The abra ride is an unforgettable experience, especially at sunset, where you can enjoy the view of the city with silhouettes of barjeels, minarets against the backdrop of skyscrapers.
You might also be interested in visiting the Etihad Museum in Dubai, where one can learn about the unification of the UAE.