on October 26, 2004
Amidst all the skyscrapers, shopping malls, and Land Rovers, it is sometimes easy to forget that Dubai was once a small fishing village with a very distinct culture different from the rest of the Middle East. However, this doesn’t mean that there is nothing of cultural value left in Dubai, and if you want to find them, they are there, even if they have been shamelessly repackaged for tourists by the Dubai government.
The first stop on your cultural tour of Dubai should be the Dubai Museum. Housed in an old fort, the Dubai Museum certainly doesn’t have the quality of artifacts that the al-Ain Museum does, but they definitely spent enough money turning it into a visual wonderland. Like the rest of Dubai, what the museum lacks in real culture or history it makes up for in showmanship. The museum is basically one set of dioramas after another designed to introduce you to Emirati culture. There is a diorama of an old souq, of a traditional Emirati house, and even one on the connection between Dubai and the sea. Even with all the flashing lights and sounds, the dioramas are valuable as a tool for learning about Emirati culture and the Dubai Museum is worth a visit if not just to spend one day not at the mall. Also, probably the most spectacular part of the museum is the section on the development of modern Dubai, in which you are taken through a pictorial tour of Dubai decade-by-decade, from 1960 onward. The change over the forty years is absolutely stunning.
Another good reason to visit the museum is because it is located right next to the main souq area of Dubai. This area, once a maze of covered bazaars bustling with activity, is nowhere near its former glory today, having lost out to mega-malls, but it is still worth a visit. The souqs have been generously restored today and serve the tourists as much as the locals. If you have been to the souqs in other Middle Eastern cities like Istanbul, Fes, Cairo, or Damascus, you will probably laugh in the face of the Dubai souqs, but they are still a nice place to buy some crafts, especially gold. Also, a walk through the souqs will end up on the banks of Dubai Creek, the most attractive part of Dubai, where you will find many nice restaurants and cafes where you can smoke some shisha on the banks of the creek.
On the edge of the creek, you will also find a couple of boat landings filled with wooden dhows. These water taxis once filled Dubai Creek, but the building of bridges and tunnels has made them more or less useless. They exist today mostly as a novelty, but a quick ride across the creek provides you with the best views in the whole city and is well worth your time.
And that is about where the cultural side of Dubai stops--now go live it up…
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