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Travel to U.A.E. Dubai: Old Dubai

Those numbers are pretty amazing, when you think that Dubai had only 20,000 people in 1950.  Then part of Trucial Oman, the city had already doubled its population since 1900.  Unlike his Persian counterparts, the local ruler, then as now from the Maktoum family, welcomed traders.  Besides, there was a British air field, and oil exploration had begun--would transform the place after the discovery of oil in 1966. 

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"Dubai stands on both sides of a creek, with a shallow and difficult entrance." So wrote J.G. Lorimer about a century ago. If the creek looks more substantial now, that's because it was dredged and broadened in the 1950s.

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The water was bridged in 1964, and a tunnel was completed in 1967, but pedestrians use the popular wooden abras, which charge a minimal toll.

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The east side of the city is the quarter called Deira. A century ago, it was a mixed but Muslim neighborhood, with Arabs, Persians, and Baluchis. Across the water is Bur Dubai, then the Indian quarter. Off to the right of Bur Dubai is Shindaghah, now commercial and institutional, but a hundred years ago the exclusive residence of Arabs.

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Only wooden ships are allowed to use the eight wharves along the creek. (Steel vessels use Port Rashid at the mouth of the Creek or Jebel Ali Port, perhaps 15 miles to the west. Together, those ports handled more than 5,000,000 containers in 2003. That puts Dubai in the top dozen container ports in the world.)

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There's room for about 300 dhows at the eight creekside wharfs. With a reported 720,000 tons of freight entering or leaving annually, and assuming an average dhow load of 250 tons, about 10 dhows enter or leave daily.

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Destinations include Iran and Iraq but also more distant places: Yemen and Somalia to the West and India to the east.

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It's a vestige of ports in the pre-container days.

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Stroll along the quay.

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There's more shipping that wharfage.

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Everything's portaged, stacked, and secured by hand.

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Mooring lines.

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Dhow-cum-houseboat.

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Ablutions: the gentleman was brushing his teeth at prodigious length.

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Back on the other side and looking toward the sea from Shandaghah. As the paving suggests, it's been redeveloped in part as a public space.

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Nearby: one of the wind-catching towers of the museum created in the former house of Shaikh Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum. The structures are common throughout Arabia and are more complex than they look: they're divided into two flues, opening in opposite directions. One is to admit air to the room below; the other is for air to leave that room. Which is which depends on the wind's direction--often, on the time of day.

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The creek seen from the house.

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Sanitized, the museum retains the original simplicity of five residential units surrounding the courtyard. Sheikh Maktoum built the house in 1896 and lived in it until his death in 1958. Restoration by Makiya Associates began in 1980 and was completed in 1986 at a cost of $2 million. The walls, both inside and out, are covered with a farush plaster of sand, lime, and cement. Commendable? Maybe, but this is the only building in the Creek-side al Shandaghah quarter that was spared "urban cleansing," in the phrase of Salma Samar Damluji, writing in The Architecture of the United Arab Emirates, 2006, p.291.

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A ten-minute walk away, the new Old Souk.

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Closed for long lunch.

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Nearby, the Al Faheidi Fort, now a museum. Sheikh Maktoum lived here until his move to the Shindagha house.

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Tower of the fort.

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The most interesting feature may be the slabs of coral used as brick.

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Old Dubai relied on shallow wells, but water was stored, too, as in this wooden tank.


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