Posts Tagged ‘Dubai museum’

Courtyard of XVA Cafe, Bastakia quarter

On the morning of my second day in Dubai (the only full day) I visited the Dubai museum and then the Bastakia quarter.

The Dubai museum is housed in the former Al Fahidi Fort, itself the oldest building remaining in Dubai. Somewhere in the museum there’s a map of ‘Old Dubai’ which shows the small town backing onto the Creek to the east with the Al Fahidi fort acting as the secure gateway to the town on the west. Now it’s buried in an inner-city area which looks ripe for re-development.

The museum, which¬†consists of two sections, is excellent. First is the courtyard of the old fort itself, i.e. at ground level. Within that space are a number of old boats of various sizes together with a reconstructed traditional house. Possibly two houses, in fact – there’s one with thicker walls that might have been (semi) permanent and was the winter house, while an altogether lighter and flimsier structure that is described as a summer dwelling – this latter might have been temporary, erected by the inhabitants anew each summer. Secondly there are the new underground galleries. These consist of a series of life-sized dioramas showing life in Dubai as it was in the first half of the 20th century. It shows the people and the trades, crafts and activities they followed at that time. There are also interpretative displays about pearl diving – at one time Dubai was a centre of this activity – and above all there are evocative displays about the bedouin and their way of life. It’s a very good museum, and I came away with a very clear understanding of how much Dubai has changed in 60 years or so – you won’t see any pearl divers or bedouin today. In fact, that point began to niggle away at me as I was going round – the museum is a wistful evocation of how things were, with a subtext of “and this is how the real arabs lived”, yet every decision that has been made by this city’s rulers in the last 60 years or so has been to remove Dubai and its people ever further from that. In Singapore the clear message was “this is how things were – look how well we’ve done!” while in Dubai the message was almost “this is how things were – look at what we’ve lost….”.

After that I went round to the nearby Bastakia quarter. This is a fairly small area of old Arab houses that’s been preserved. The houses themselves have all been repurposed, mainly into hotels or guesthouses, cafes and restaurants, and/or art galleries. It made for a very pleasant hour or strolling around. Being Arab houses they have blank exteriors – just a few very small windows facing out (and mostly on an upper floor at that). But each house is arranged around an internal courtyard, and these were delightful.

Later that day I went to the mall and had my less-than-pleasant subway experience – see here – before eating in the hotel.

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