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Travel to Dubai


Al Bastakiya, Dubai

23 July 2015

A small heritage quarter of cobbled stones, secluded courtyards and art galleries, has been welcoming visitors and shaping the city since the 1800s.

The cool, flat flagstones along the shaded narrow lane ways of Al Bastakiya offer welcome relief from the summer for the visitors wandering Dubai’s oldest district.

The architecture belongs to its place; founded waterside along Dubai’s creek, with shaded protected courtyards, thick walls, its iconic roof-top wind towers and cool, meandering streets (sikkas). Al Bastakiya, also known as the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, was built to withstand the desert heat and sands.

Dating back to the mid-1800s, the district has been painstakingly restored since 2005 to offer visitors and residents a glimpse into the early life of one of the Middle East’s fastest growing cities. It’s now a charming, and a little bohemian, historical and cultural quarter, occupied by museums, independent art galleries, not-for-profit organisations and secluded cafes.

For architects in the region, the restoration of Al Bastakiya not only provides insight into an earlier way of life but is also helping to inform the future development of the fast-growing city, as architects now look to create structures that respond to the climate.

Of the preservation of Al Bastakiya, Richard Fenne, a Dubai-based architect at the international firm, Woods Bagot, said, “The story goes that a British architect, Rayner Otter, came to the area in the late 1980s and campaigned for the preservation and restoration of Al Bastakiya. He personally appealed to Prince Charles, who was scheduled to visit later that year and the Prince’s support ultimately led to a rethink by the Municipality and the implementation of a conservation strategy.

“In a nation that had become accustomed to looking forward and embracing new technologies and architecture, this provided a watershed moment where the importance of built heritage was acknowledged, much to the benefit of many future generations.”

Explore the Dubai Museum, which is housed in Dubai’s oldest building, the beautifully restored Al Fahidi Fort. Erected circa 1787 the fort defended the city against invasion and was opened as a museum in 1971. Enjoy tea at the Arabian Tea House and experience a traditional Emirati meal at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.

Once a small village of an estimated 60 traditional Arabian homes for important officials, and pearl and textile traders, the remaining Al Bastakiya area is a now a proud testament to a rich trading past – an oasis of calm in a fast-paced world.

For Richard Fenne, Al Bastakiya’s importance to Dubai will only continue to grow. “A well attributed quote to the late visionary leader, Sheikh Zayed, proposed that those who do not know their past cannot possibly understand the future.

“In a culture where intangible heritage prevails, the buildings of Bastakiya physically encapsulate architectural history and provide a blueprint for the design of climatically sensitive buildings. Conservation areas like this are essential ingredients, which enrich any modern city, particularly one such as Dubai where the pace of development is so rapid that the importance of the past can go unheeded.”