Dubai Mini-History Lesson

It’s time for everyone’s favorite thing… history! I promise that this isn’t going to be nearly as in-depth or complicated as Lebanon’s history. I also realize that promising something is “less complicated than Lebanon’s history” is stupid because I could give a thorough walk-through of brain surgery, and it would still be less complicated than that.

Part of the reason this is guaranteed to be easier is because much of Dubai’s history is relatively unknown. There is evidence of settlements there as early as 3000BC, and then there’s close to nothing until the 1500s AD. So that saves us the review of a solid 4500 years of history.

Enjoy this selection of pictures from the Dubai History Museum that may or may not directly relate to what I’m talking about.

The first settlers in the area were probably nomadic cattle herders who started to explore agriculture and eventually managed to become successful date palm farmers. They settled next to Dubai Creek, right where the river meets the Persian Gulf. Fast forward 3500 years to the 500s AD and the settlement became a stop along a trade route linking modern-day Oman and Iraq.

Classic house with the big tower thing used to keep the house cool.

In the 1500s, there are writings from an Italian merchant talking about the pearling industry. Dubai had grown from an agricultural community to one built on fishing, pearl diving, shipbuilding, and support for the trade route that ran through the area.

Traditional ship outside of the history museum

These axes made me laugh. They’re definitely not for chopping wood! Though I can see how they might be useful in battle. Eek!

There was a time of conflict in the late 1700s/early 1800s. A new tribe settled in nearby Abu Dhabi, leading to frequent fighting between tribes. During this time, Dubai was a walled city. The economy took a hit because the fighting discouraged traders from coming through the area. In 1820, the British negotiated a maritime truce that allowed trade routes to reopen.

The Al Maktoum dynasty took control of Dubai in the 1830s. Under their leadership, the city began to grow. Expats were given tax exemption, and this led to a big increase in the number of foreign workers. The city and economy continued to grow around fishing, pearling, and trading. After the creation of fake pearls in the 1950s, the economy took a temporary dip until a new discovery: oil.

After this development, everything changed. The sheikh at the time, Sheikh Rashid, used the oil money to give Dubai what it needed to become a trade hub again. Dubai Creek was dredged and widened, and other necessary infrastructure projects were completed. Sheikh Rashid was wise and didn’t want Dubai to become completely reliant on oil.

Cruising along the widened and dredged Dubai Creek. On the bank, you can see some rebuilt “historic” structures in Dubai’s Heritage Village.

Wall fragment from when Dubai was a walled city during the tribal conflict years. This is one of the only actual old things that exists in Dubai.

Those little round things are shields… made of shark skin!

The museum talked about the different trades in historic Dubai, and these were illustrated with life-size models.

Some traditional musical instruments. The body of the one in the middle is made from a single piece of wood!

The United Arab Emirates was formed in 1971 and consists of seven emirates. Dubai is the second biggest by land area and the most populous emirate. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have the most political power in the country. The UAE currency, dirhams, was developed and it was tied to the US dollar in 1997. That means that the exchange rate between the two currencies stays the same, and as the US dollar gets stronger and weaker, the dirham does as well.

The first highrise was built in 1979, and that was just a small preview of what was to come. Since the 1990s, Dubai has been working to become a business hub and tourist destination. It has the world’s only 7-star hotel (how do you even get 7-stars if there are only 5 in existence? It seems like the rating system is kind of worthless once you can score better than perfect), the world’s tallest building (only for the moment though… the next one is already under construction in Saudi Arabia and will claim the title by 2020), the world’s largest shopping mall, crazy man-made islands, and a ton of other attractions and features that scream “luxury”.

All of those skyscrapers… brand new. This is at the Dubai Marina which says, “If you’re rich, this is the place for you!” (It doesn’t literally say that, but it might as well.)

The current sheikh, Sheikh Mohammed, has been in power since 2006, and much of the development toward and focus on increased tourism is due to his vision and the work started by his father, Sheikh Rashid. Things such as allowing foreigners to own property and work tax-free have been big draws to bring people in from around the world and make Dubai into a truly international city. Around 90% of its residents are foreigners!

The growth in Dubai over the last 40 years is pretty incredible. Think about the fact that ALL of those skyscrapers that dominate the skyline were built since 1979. Like whatttt? I remember that when I was in Shanghai, we watched a video comparing the development of New York City and Shanghai. For years and years and years, New York slowly grew vertically. It was a very gradual change. Meanwhile, during those same years and years and years, Shanghai was completely flat and flat and flat… until it started to boom. Then, in a snap, buildings shot up and quickly filled out the skyline… while New York stayed basically the same. Dubai’s growth has been at least that dramatic. It’s like everything just dropped out of the sky… the land is empty, you blink, and there’s an entire city in front of you.

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