Oldest Parts of Dubai

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November 30th 2016
Published: February 11th 2018
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Hello my fellow travellers!

Today I started by going to the Al Bastakiya, an historical area built around the mid 19th century, that contains the oldest buildings in Dubai. The area spans some 31,000 square metres and is free of charge. It's a very lovely area to walk around in and just enjoy the atmosphere, it's filled with museums and cultural sites of various artistry and it's all free of charge which is really great. There is also a piece of the walls of old Dubai remaining inside the district. A really beautiful feature here is the barajeel, tall wind towers that stretch up into the sky which really elevates the feelings of being in the old orient.

This area was actually scheduled to be demolished in 1980 and much of it was demolished and the rest was made into derelict storehouses. However, when a British architect by the name of Rayner Otter moved here he was taken in by it's beauty. He began modestly by renovating the home he was staying in but he soon petitioned to Prince Charles to help him preserve the area. As a result Prince Charles paid a visit to the area and was shown around by Rayner Otter, afterwards Prince Charles made a formal request with the authorities to preserve it, thanks to this the demolition was cancelled and in 2005 the Dubai municipality initiated a project to restore the neighbourhood to it's former glory.

I mostly just walked around in here for the day and visited some of the museums and also the Diwan Masjid, the mosque that served the ruler's court in Dubai. It's supposed to only be open for visitors that are part of the organised tours arranged by Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding, but I had no problems going inside it so I don't think it's enforced all that strictly, or I just got very lucky.

Within this area is also a small tent camp set up in a traditional manner and it's also decked out with some requisites so it's a nice place to take a few good photos and I managed to find a nice and helpful gentleman who helped me take some nice photographs in this lovely spot.

What I really like about this area, apart from the general atmosphere, it that there's no other people around. I had to wait for quite a while just for someone to come around to even help me with some photos, there's no tourist crowds despite the areas beauty and it gives it a dignified aura as you walk around and explore it on your own accord. I can imagine that most people that see this area probably does it on one of the organised tours and that it might be that reason that leaves it secluded during other times.

Personally I don't think you need an organised tour to appreciate this place, there is plenty of good information around concerning the various things located within the area and if you, like me, don't enjoy being part of a tour group you will probably prefer to take it in the same kind of stride as I did.

From Al Bastakiya I made my way to the fort Al Fahidi, the fort was built in 1787 and is the oldest building in Dubai, today it houses the Dubai Museum and the entrance fee is quite nominal so I really recommend a visit. The museum was well set up in my opinion with several interesting exhibitions about traditional life in old Dubai.

After I had visited the museum and walked around the various exhibitions I went across the street to the Masjid Bur Dubai Al Kabir, this mosque has the largest minaret in Dubai and it's also supposed to be closed to non-Muslims I think but no one stopped me from entering. It was built 1900, but it's architecture wasn't really in my taste so I didn't linger there for very long.

Instead I walked through the nearby Bur Dubai Souk, a textile souk in the Bur Dubai side of the river while on the Deira side of the river there is a gold and spice souk. It's also known together as the old souk. It was a nice atmosphere in there even though some of the vendors where a bit pushy, but not as bad as I've experienced in other places.

When I came of of the souk I saw a lot of boats of various sizes and shapes transporting people across the river to various stations so I checked up on it and it was really inexpensive so I decided to take a boat across to the Deira side of the river. Before I did that though I continued to check out Bur Dubai.

There are a couple of nice watchtowers standing by the waterfront, at least I know one of them was, Burj Muraqabat Al Shandagha, a square watchtower build in 1939. There was also a round one that had the feel of a watchtower but I couldn't find any information about it so I'm not sure. By the waterfront is also the Wizarat Al Malia, the ministry of finance, and the former house of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum. He was the ruler of Dubai between 1912 and 1958 and was the grandfather of the current ruler. His former home is now a museum and art centre.

I also took a look at the Iranian mosque Masjid Ali Ibn Abi Talib which is absolutely gorgeous with it's colourful tiles, I also took a look at another mosque that I think was named Haras Bin Haras Masjid but I'm not sure as I can't find any information about it. I didn't go inside either of them as they didn't seem to be open and people were praying in front of them.

With that I felt satisfied with the Bur Dubai side and I returned to the waterfront and got on one of the boats going across to the Deira side, mostly just to experience the boat ride, because it's perfect possible to go there by metro as well.

The boat ride was lovely even if it's not that long, it's was nice with the fresh breeze in this otherwise quite oppressive heat. As I left the boat I found myself right in the Deira Souk, specialised in gold trade. It was nicer here with less intrusive sellers, I'm guessing that due to the prices of gold they don't really expect all tourists to buy things here. They has long and nice walkways constructed between the buildings so that everyone could move around in shade which was very welcome.

While walking around I also came upon the beautiful little mosque Masjid Shabib and another mosque which I don't know the name of. My final visit in Deira was to the school Al Ahmadiya, the oldest school in Dubai, founded in 1912 but it's now a museum. Unfortunately it was already closed for the day but I could still walk around and see it from the outside at least.

With that I felt quite satisfied with my exploration of the older parts of Dubai and decided to return to the modern parts a bit instead. I went to the nearest metro station and took the metro back to Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa to catch the evening fountain show which was very nice, though I must admit that I think the one in Singapore a couple years ago was better.

After the show ended I still had time left before I needed to return to Ramy's home, since he'd be home late from work today as well, and I had already decided to go to Oman tomorrow I decided to use the rest of the evening as effectively as possible despite it being pitch black.

I got on a bus and went back to the Jumeirah area that I went to last night, however this time I didn't go to the bus but instead aimed for Masjid Jumeirah Al Kabir, one of the most famous mosques of Dubai. The bus stopped near Al Mustashfa Al Iraniu, an Iranian hospital that is definitely one of the most gorgeous hospitals I've ever seen. Across the street from the hospital lies the even more impressive Masjid Al Hussein, another mosque of Iranian origin.

From there it was just a brief walk to Masjid Jumeirah Al Kabir and it really is a beautiful mosque and well worth a visit. It was closed at this late hour but it's one of the few, if not the only, mosque in Dubai that is openly accepting non Muslim visitors.

With that though I felt quite satisfied with my second day in Dubai and decided to return to Ramy's home and rest for my trip over to Oman tomorrow. I asked the staff in one of the metro stations on where to catch the bus to Muscat and they seemed quite confused about it so I hope I actually find my way over there properly tomorrow.

Ramy still hadn't come home from work when I came back so I went to bed but I woke up when he came home so we chatted for a while before going to sleep again and then I woke up again for his daybreak prayer and we chatted some more. I don't understand how they have the energy to break up their daily cycle like this for their prayers, I'd be exhausted in no time like this.

Well, tomorrow it's off to Oman, it will be very interesting to see what it's like, I'll be staying with Hemant, a guy from India that's living and working in Muscat, I look forward to meeting him!

Until tomorrow I wish you all peace and happy travels!

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18th February 2018

Great to find an old, traditional part of Dubai, and greater still to find it pretty much mostly to yourself :) I share your experiences, being a solo traveller too, of often having to wait for a while to find someone to help take a photo of you! But it's also a great way to meet people too :) I look forward to reading about your trip to Muscat and Oman.
20th February 2018

It was a very nice experience indeed. :) I have now purchased a tripod to bring with me on my travels to make it a bit easier to take the pictures I want with me in the frame. :)

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