Reliving the Past in Modern Dubai

Dubai in the United Arab Emirates has been settled for at least 4,000 years, yet the city/state is now regarded as a contemporary city which continues to re-invent itself with revolutionary architecture and massive, bold public works which even re-define its ancient coastline.

One of the architects of the modern Dubai was Sheik Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who is called the `Father of Dubai’. His father’s house has been preserved and restored and is now an important heritage building that is open to the public to showcase an impressive collection of photographs, paintings, lithographs and art objects which portray the development of the Emirate.

Built in 1896, Sheikh Saeed’s house was not only an official residence, but, at one time, also the seat of government. Now that it has been restored to its former glory, for those with an interest in Arabian history and culture, the premises is well worth a visit.

The house highlights the intricacy of 19th century Islamic architecture with its vaulted high-beam ceilings, arched doorways, exquisite trellis screens and finely sculptured window overhangs.

Typical of high class houses of the time, the building has a central courtyard which not only provides privacy for the household, but which also shields the house from the hot desert winds.

To help keep the house cool, the building even has a very early form of air conditioning called barjeels, which consists of four beautifully crafted wind towers which guide the breezes through the house.

It is easy to compare the Dubai of today with the type of city it was in the 1940s and 1950s, thanks to an exhibition of rare photographs which record the great changes that have occurred over time.

The house features a Marine Wing which documents , through photographs, sculptures and ephemera, the development of the fishing industry, boat building and pearling, and even has examples of dhows which are the most common small vessels.

Although Dubai is now a modern city with a large permanent population and ever expanding neighbourhoods, its population used to be more fluid as nomadic cameleers would visit the city with camel trains loaded with goods to trade and export through the port. This Bedouin lifestyle is brilliantly captured in photographic form and although camel racing is still a popular pastime, the ship of the desert has been replaced as an essential mover of cargo by modern trucks.

The social and cultural life in Dubai has had a remarkable change over the years, and in between visiting the malls and tourist attractions, it is worthwhile when visiting Dubai to take the time to visit Sheikh Saeed’s House to reflect on the Emirate as it used to be.

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