Al Fahidi's historic neighborhood
Away from the traffic hum and concrete corners of the Middle East metropolis Dubai is a district in the old area that invites travelers to walk along winding alleyways flanked by a maze of wind towers. Built to trap wind and funnel it down inside the house, these were early forms of air conditioning in the desert. Built by Persian merchants in the early 1900s who traveled from the city of Bastak in Iran to benefit from the tax rules in the emirate, the Bastakia Quarter, now known as Al Fahidi historic district, fell into disrepair by 1970s.
A British architect Rayner Otter visited the area in 1990s and conducted extensive renovation work in the house he was staying at. The area had been ordered to be demolished in 1989 but Rayner began a campaign to preserve the district. He wrote a letter to Prince Charles who was due to visit Dubai that year. Upon arriving in the city the Prince asked to visit the neighborhood and explored it with Otter, finally suggesting that the area be preserved. The demolition was cancelled and the neighborhood was eventually restored by locals and expatriates. The traditional way of life prevailing in Dubai during the 19th century until 1970s can be seen reflected in the architecture at Al-Fahidi Historical Neighborhood in the old part of the city.
Buildings with high air towers (called Barajeel) have been re-created using popular building materials such as gypsum, teak, stone, sandal wood, palm wood and fronds, all aligned next to each other. The neighborhood offers a peek into the lives of communities that resided in the area, showcasing their care for privacy in the limited front windows, which are placed high up and appear narrow. All the district buildings face south west towards the qibla (in the direction faced during prayers, towards Kabba in Mecca). Alleys, pathways and public squares run through the neighborhood lined with museums, art centers, exhibits from different regions of the Middle East, including Syrian carpets, paintings on leather, Arabic calligraphy, among others.
Within the maze of restored buildings also lies a section of the old city wall from 1800. Also present is the Dubai Museum, created from a section of the Al-Fahidi Fort. Built in 1787, the fort is among the oldest buildings in the city and has served previously as a palace, prison and garrison. The museum now displays archaeological finds from the region, a showcase of traditional life in the emirate and images of the city’s growth and progress through the decades. Also present is the Diwan Mosque attached to the ruler’s court (Diwan) used by some executive council members. The mosque’s main entrance is from the Al Fahidi district and the structure is topped off by a flattened dome with a high and slender white minaret, rivalling the neighboring Grand Mosque in height.
The Al Fahidi Neighborhood, located at the creek (Khor Dubai) played a significant role in trade, with dhows (wooden boats) flowing to and from here bridging the emirate’s commercial relations with distant parts of the region. The district today also plays hosts to a number of seasonal cultural and artistic events such as Artists-in-Residence Programme, Sikka Art Fair, National Day Events, Heritage Week and religious celebrations and houses galleries that feature Emirati, local and regional artists.