This engaging museum is a must for visitors, not only for its whimsical dioramas but also because it vividly charts the rapid progress of Dubai. A couple of hours spent at the museum before exploring the
rest of Dubai really helps put the speedy evolution of the city into perspective.
The museum is housed in the Al-Fahidi Fort, built c 1787 to defend Dubai Creek. After serving as both the residence of Dubai's rulers and the seat of government, it became a museum in 1971. After entering the museum courtyard, you'll see several small boats ane a barasti (palm-leaf) house, with traditional wind-tower 'air conditioning'. The hall on the righ: houses displays featuring khanjars (curved daggers) and other traditional weapons; the hall to th left of the courtyard has a video o~ traditional Emirati dances, a display of musical instruments ane more weapons... you in the large display halls... The real treat, however, awaits are underground. After a multimedia presentation of the development of the city, there is a series of dioramas representing the pas: commercial life of Dubai as well as domestic life, desert life ane life on the sea.
The vivid scenes complete with disconcertingly lifelike dummies - are augmented with hologram-like video projections' and an atmospheric soundtrack. Pho tography isn't allowed, but the desire of most visitors to be photographed next to one of the historical characters keeps the museum guards very busy!
After these vivid tableaux, the archaeological displays are bound to disappoint all but the most dedicated fan of digs. Everyone else will head straight for the decent gift shop.
This small, densely concentrated neighbourhood of narrow lanes and wind-towered residences was once home to wealthy Persian traders, mainly from Bastak in southern Iran, lending the neighbourhood its name, Bastakia. These merchants, dealing mostly in pearls and textiles, settled in Dubai because of its tax- free trading and accessible creek.
Most of the houses here date back to the early I900s and the prosperous merchants constructed their homes from coral and lime- stone, a step up from the more modest building materials offered by the ubiquitous palm tree. This is one of the main reasons that the buildings in Bastakia have lasted - they were far more durable and more valuable than the traditional barasti hut made from palm fronds.
While there is some debate as to the origin of the wind-tower concept, there's no doubting that towers and courtyards were common features of Iranian coastal buildings. The towers take the hot air upwards and out of the building and also pick up breezes and direct them downwards.
The Bastakia has now mostly been restored and the quarter is starting to develop a lovely arty
feel. Courtyard buildings you can visit include , a wonderfully restored house that is a hotel, gallery and cafe, and the traditionally decorated Bastakiah ights restaurant. As you wander through the narrow, peaceful lanes you can easily imagine the life of the merchant residents at the turn of the 20th century.
It would be difficult to find a more fitting a symbol ofDubai today tha:: the audacious and iconic Burj Al Arab (Arabian Tower). The world': tallest dedicated hotel, the sail-shaped building tops out at an impres
sive 321m and was the boldest and most ambitious of the mFiad 1990s projects undertaken b:Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed. The ambitious Sheikh kne that a world-class city - which he was determined to make Dubai needed an iconic symbol like the Eiffel Tower.
The process of constructim: began on the world's only 'seven star' (actually rated five-star luxury) hotel in 1994, with pillars 0: the offshore island plunging 40rr: into the seabed. It wasn't unti: 1999 that the hotel opened i doors to its first awestruck gues who marvelled at the white wovec glass-fibre screen sail facade and then were bewildered by the 'Arabian fantasy' interior.
It's as though the imagination that fuelled the design of the extraordinary exterior of the hotel had run out of puff after filling the dhow (traditional wooden boat sail, leaving the building's beauty decidedly skin deep. The interior seeks to impress with its sheer extravagance, having left taste ex hausted at the door and, while everything that glitters here is gold, colours that match gold are only randomly in evidence. Perplexingly, the interio: designer has stated that there was no specific colour scheme - perhaps another world first for Dubai right there! As for the rooms, suffice i:
to say you half expect an Arabian Joan Collins to make an entrance via the internal staircase.
The cost of construction of the hotel has never been made public, but it clearly was money well spent as Sheikh Mohammed could then happily tick off 'iconic symbol' on his formidable to-do list for Dubai.
DEIRA SPICE SOUQ
The air of the atmospheric old alleys of the Spice Souq on the Deira Weterfront is heady with the aromas of spices, herbs, nuts, pulses, dried fruit;: and chillies. Sacks overflow with frankincense and oud (fragrant ground cardamom, cumin, paprika and saffron, cinnamon sticks ani cloves, as well as the local favourites, which are sumach and zaata(thyme). Inside the shops, shelves are lined with orange- and rosewater; henna powders; incensi' burners and charcoal and other products, both ancient ani modern, from pumice stones and traditional wooden tooth cleaners, to hair colours and cake mixes.
The souq's wooden archways and wind towers are restored, but this market, established in the 1830s, would have an antique quality ifit weren-: for the odd shop selling plastic kitchenware and toys. Focus instead on thi' spice sellers, taking time to stop and smell the bouquet of aromas.
By far the most popular buy, with local ladies and tourists alike, is frankincense. The best quality crystals come from the harvested gum resin of trees in the Dhofar area of Oman. Frankincense can be bought by weight although these days spice sellers prepackage the crystals in kits that include a small clay or decorative incense burner and coal. Ask for a demonstration on how to prepare the incense. Emiratis burn incense on a daily basis, often passing it around afte:meals, and at weddings and parties, so that the smoke perfumes guests clothes. Tiny boxes of saffron, rose-water and henna are also great buy~ and make exotic souvenirs.
BUR DUBAI SOUQ
Established in the 1830s, Dubai's souqs have long had a reputation as the best in Arabia, and with good reason. Like the Deira Gold and Spice Souqs, Bur Dubai Souq is a bustling bazaar with great bargaining opportunities, interesting architecture and lots of atmosphere.
In reality the 'souq' encapsulates several shopping areas. The covered souq by the waterside, with its restored wind towers, houses small shops with Russian signage in their windows selling vibrant textiles, Arabian 'antiques' and collectables, sequinned slippers and curly-toed Aladdin shoes from Afghanistan and Pakistan; this souq also proffers tacky souvenirs, cheap T-shirts and clothes, and Indian sweet shops. Along with the alley between the Sikh Gurudaba and Hindu Shri Nathje Jayate temples (p25), which has shops selling religious paraphernalia, bindis, garlands of flowers and incense, this area is the most atmospheric.
Less aesthetically pleasing, yet still intriguing, are the surrounding lanes and streets, which contain more textile and sari shops, haberdashers and tailors. AI-Fahidi St, also consid ered to be part of the souq, is lined with shops selling jewellery, shoes, stationery, souvenirs, electronics and luggage to take it all home!
The souq is best explored at night when it's crowded and lively, and in winter for cool breezes. Take time in between bargaining to talk to the salesmen. They hail from everywhere, from Mumbai to Islamabad, Isfahan to Kiev. The shoppers are just as varied, from tourists haggling over suitcases to local ladies looking for the latest textiles.
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