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xEurasia Odyssey

A Day in Dubai

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Monday, 11 October 2021 | Views [33]


Dubai conjures up images of expensive shops, gold, glistening glass covered buildings shooting to the sky, and massive environmental destruction of the coral reefs and shorelines.  Advertisements for tourists on Youtube tout how the city has overcome nature, and certainly an indoor ski slope in the middle of the desert attests to their success – at least temporarily. Fly Dubai, however, was the only airline flying to Karachi directly out of Salzburg, so I thought I would test my own prejudices on the 13 hour lay over. It seems I was both right and somewhat wrong. In addition to all the glitz and superficiality, there are some good museums.

 After getting through security and all the Covid check points, I took the metro to Shindagha, the old part of town.  It was incredibly hot and the metro was cram-packed full, but the old town was basically empty.  As I only had the day and wanted to learn more about the history of the site,  I headed to the Saruq Al Hadid Archeological Museum as my first stop.  The building is relatively small, as is the collection, but it did provide a glimpse of the evolution of the peoples of the region starting with stone tools and flints, bronze and metal daggers and swords, necklaces from stones, shells and gold.  There weren’t any ancient goddess figurines, which somewhat surprised me, but the very friendly woman at the reception desk said that most of the pre-Islamic artifacts are in Sharjah, not in Dubai. As I didn’t have time to go to the neighboring city, that will have to wait for another trip. On this one, I progressed to the Crossroads of Civilization museum, which consists of three galleries in three buildings.  The first and largest is in a seemingly newly renovated structure with a large courtyard; the galleries surround the park-like interior setting.  There are six themed rooms: Local civilizations, with regional artifacts from the past to the present; Royalty, with letters from various British, Portuguese, Belgian and German royalty and VIPs to local individuals, including a blown up photo of F.D.R.’s meeting with Ibn Saud, that may have started the U.S. & House of Saud’s long-standing relationship; the next is dedicated to the Holocaust, followed by a room with mostly Jewish artifacts from Palestine and the Holy Land; this leads into a room dedicated to multiple faiths with books and ritual objects from Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, there is even a Palmster from St. Peter’s in Salzburg; the last is dedicated to Islamic Art and Culture.  This last gallery highlights the first still existent cloth covering of the Kaa’ba in Mecca from around the 17th C. Originally, I had just wanted to go to this one section of the triad, but as the Old Books and Manuscripts Museum included those in languages other than Arabic, I went to it too.  It was filled with Qurans in multiple scripts dating from the 12th C. as well as Bibles, Torahs and commentaries.  I did skip the last of the three, the Weapons Museum.  From there I traced my way back through the maze of beige yellow stucco lined alleyways to the History of the Creek Museum, which is one of four museums that comprise the Al Shindagha Museum.  All of these museums are in renovated old houses, a couple of which have been fused together to create enough space for the collections. The History of the Creek gave a good overview of the human evolution on the site and the changes in the flow of the creek, which still today remains the life and economic blood of the city. The Perfume Museum showcased how local perfume was made, and how the tradition was carried on by the wife of a former Sheik, in whose former residence the museum is housed. The Emerging City and one dedicated to Faith and Religion rounded out the quartet.

After visiting all the museums, I decided to walk to the Bar Dubai souq to see what they were selling.  The shopkeepers we so – typically – in your face that I just quickly walked through the narrow passageways lined with long tunics and dresses for women, pillows, shawls, gold jewelry, perfumes and all kinds of knick knacks.  At the end of the souq, I returned to the Creek and found a coffee shop with some shade. It was a wonderful spot to sit and watch the ferries on the water and relax.

As time was getting tight and I still wanted to walk a bit before the next flight, I headed towards the other side of town from where I could see the spires of the Burj Khalifa in the distance.

By this time, I was drenched with sweat and decided it was best to head straight back to the airport via the metro.  It took me a while to find the stop as the free map that is available at the arrivals terminal isn’t detailed with street names.  The metro was also a bit confusing as the signs say where the platforms are, but not which trains’ end stops are on which platform.  For the airport I wanted to get the one that was going to Rasidiye, but on the platform the speaker kept saying the trains were going to City Center.  I finally broke down and asked someone if the City Center train was the Rasidiye train; it was, and I made it back to the airport with enough time to have a coffee before my flight to Karachi.

 So, I was wrong that the city caters only to commercialized superficiality and greed, but I was correct about the environmental toll it takes.  What I hadn’t realized however, but became clear based on the plaques in the Al Hadid and History of the Creek Museums, was that this was a long-standing process.  Based on archeological evidence, the Al Hadid site was an important trade center during the Iron Age.  Snakes on the pots, which are related to a variety of ancient belief systems, indicate trade across Mesopotamia and Indus Valley civilizations. There were also metal weapons as well as tools for daily use uncovered, including bowls and fish-hooks. Dubai, however, didn’t really take hold until after members of the Al Maktoum tribe settled by the creek in 1833.The houses were constructed of mud-brick mixed with coral. (Note the earlier destruction of the reefs) They were closely laid out so that shady wind tunnels would provide some respite from the heat. The houses often had wind towers, similar to those in Iran, for air circulation. In 1901-2 Sheikh Maktoum bin Hashar Al Maktoum designated Dubai a “free port” to encourage trade. Half a century later, the ship traffic in the creek had created so much silt that the new ruler, Sheikh Rasid bin Saeed Al Maktoum had the creek dredged and a modern port built to accommodate newer and bigger ships.  The port was built on reclaimed land. By 1976, this port was too small, so he ‘commissioned the world’s largest man-made port at Sebel Ali, south of urban Dubai’. He also had a bridge built over the creek connecting Bur Dubai, the oldest souq, with Deira, the commercial center, and a tunnel underneath to promote both vehicle and foot traffic. Up until 1969, the city lived off of trade, but when oil was discovered in 1966, and once its production was started in 1969, money came pouring into the rulers’ coffers. The city has expanded dramatically since then. It is difficult to survive in the desert, and the Al Maktoums took what was available and creatively built an empire.  There is a movement now to create a more sustainable city, but the damage to the coral reefs cannot be undone. As a trade hub, the city imports people as well as goods. Those coming from neighboring and poor countries searching for work, often find that their lives are severely restricted once they arrive.  The workers I spoke with said they wake up, go to work, and go back to where they sleep. They do not have time for much else.  They aren’t allowed to go home for two years, even to attend a parent’s funeral. 

The glitz of the city takes both a human and environmental toll and only fills the coffers of a select few.


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