Discovering More .... Dubai
Dubai developed along its Creek and this is where you will find the older parts of Dubai such as the Bastakiya area. Your starting point for the walk is the Bastakiya area in Bur Dubai.
The Bastakiya area on the south or Bur Dubai side of the creek is pleasant area to explore and get a sense of life before skyscrapers and air conditioning. The area was developed by Iranian (Persian) traders. It is named after the town of Bastak, part of the Arab-dominated province of Lars in south central Iran. They were encouraged to settle here by tax concessions granted by Sheikh Maktoum bin Hashar, the ruler of Dubai at the turn of the 20th Century. His aim was to encourage trade and develop Dubai as a key trading port. The Iranians brought their entrepreneurial skills, trading links and knowledge of the world with them. The local tribes were still living in thatched huts called Barasti, in stark comparison to the modern buildings built by the Iranians in the Bastakiya with their cooling towers.
Example of a reconstructed Barasti Home near the entrance to Bastakiya
This area has only just survived. About half of it was demolished in the 1970s to make way for modern offices and the rest was falling into disrepair with a few of the old houses being used as warehouses. In the late 1980s it was all scheduled for demolition, when a local British architect, Rayner Otter, began a campaign to preserve what was left of the area. He wrote to Prince Charles and the Prince arranged to visit the area when he visited Dubai. It is thought that he helped to persuade his Emirati hosts to preserve the area since the plans for demolition were cancelled and the area was restored by the Dubai Municipality. The restoration is a rather ‘clean and tidy’ and it can remind you a little of a theme park, but it does show how the area looked and the historical houses show how people lived with the heat.
Some of the historical houses with their distinctive wind towers are open to visitors. The wind towers are called arjeels and the number a house has is an indicator of the owners wealth.
Windtower in Bastakiya
The square towers rise one or two storeys above the roof and have openings on all sides to catch the breeze. Shafts in the towers caught any breeze, directing the air down one channel and forcing the warm air up and out. Damp cloth ‘sails’ could be hung from pegs in the wind towers to cool the air and help funnel the breeze down into the house. The homes are built close together to keep the narrow alleys (sikkas) in shade for much of the day – a characteristic seen in many hot countries.
Narrow Lanes in Bastakiya
The map shows the layout of the Bastakiya area with the sites of historical houses and cafes identified. There is no charge to look around the historical houses. Most are now used as offices, museums, galleries or cafes. Near the Bastakiya mosque are museums for coins and stamps. The houses are pleasant and the displays will appeal to coin and stamp enthusiasts.
Do take note of the entrance doors to the various houses, many are heavy antique examples with elaborate carved decorations. Historians disagree on whether these decorations were traditionally Arabic, based on Islamic designs, or inspired by Indian decorations.
Door of a Heritage House
The houses all follow a similar lay out with a central courtyard surrounded by rooms.
Courtyard of Heritage House (Nr. 13).
Look out for galleries on the second floor of some of the houses.
Gallery in a Heritage house
Bastakiya is also establishing itself as a centre for the arts with several galleries located in the area
Sheikh Mohammed Centre
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding is found in the Bastakiya area. This centre holds events such as cultural meals, heritage tours and organises visits to Jumeira Mosque
Before you leave the Bastikiya area you may wish to stop for refreshments. There are a few pleasant cafes located in some of the heritage houses, where you can take a break.
Arabian Tea House Courtyard
Leave the Bastakiya area and walk along Al Faheida Street (with your back to the entrance of the Arabian Tea House turn right, away from the roundabout). You will pass a few shops and the entrance to the Rulers Court before a right turn takes you to Al Faheida Fort (Dubai Museum).
The Grand Mosque is situated opposite Dubai Museum. It has 54 domes, a capacity of 1,200 people and one of the tallest minarets in the UAE at 70m. It was rebuilt in 1998, but is a replica of the original 1900 Mosque. As with most mosques it is only accessible by muslins. If you wish to visit a mosque you can take a tour around Jumeriah Mosque, more information is available from the Cultural Centre.
Dubai Grand Mosque