Dubai is known for its beautiful modern architecture. Yet permanent structures are relatively new to the region. Historically most of the Arabs who lived here were nomadic and did not leave behind physical monuments or buildings. As such, older regions of Dubai are hard to find.
There’s a neighborhood in Bur Dubai which was built in the mid -19th century, at a time when the city was beginning to take root. This is the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, adjacent to Dubai Creek. The neighborhood is characterized by buildings with tall wind towers (Barajeel) that capture evening breezes to cool the interior of a home (not unlike a fan in a window). Built with traditional materials like stone and gypsum, the Al-Fahidi neighborhood was home to businessmen and their families, many of them having migrated from Persia because of favorable tax treatment here.
The neighborhood had fallen into disrepair in the 20th century and was all but abandoned by the 1970s, being scheduled for destruction and replacement. There was a national and global call to save it, which fortunately happened. Since then it has been beautifully refurbished and converted from a residential neighborhood into a social gathering spot. Former houses are now small museums, shops, cultural societies and related exhibits, and nice cafes and restaurants.
I enjoyed walking the narrow labyrinth of shaded alleyways, entering courtyards, exploring the many small museums and exhibits. It’s a great way to spend a half day and one of the few opportunities for a glimpse into the country’s historic past.