Bordering Dubai Creek and the Bur Dubai district is the Bastakiya Quarter, a dedicated conservation area that is one of the most picturesque sites in the city. Also known as the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, it is an area home to all sorts of museums, art galleries, restaurants and cafés, and is the perfect place to get a feeling of what Dubai used to look and feel like before it became the gleaming, modern city it is today.
The Bastakiya Quarter dates back to the 1890s, when Dubai was a fishing and trading hub, well-known for its pearl industry. Built by Persian Merchants drawn to Dubai by the rich trade opportunities and low taxes, the district was named after the southern Iranian town of Bastak, but over the years fell into a state of disrepair.
Reserved for demolition in 1989, the district was saved by the efforts of a British architect and the Prince of Wales, who convinced town planners to renovate the area and preserve it for future generations.
What to see and do
Today, the Bastakiya Quarter is one of the most-visited cultural areas in Dubai, due to the variety of sights and experiences.
The most apparent is the district’s Iranian-influenced architecture and design, from the beautifully carved doors, lattices and masonry, to the grand wind towers – a traditional form of air conditioning that allows cool breezes to flow down through a building, forcing warm air out.
There is also the oldest building in Dubai, the Al Fahidi Fort. Built in 1799 as the palace of the city’s tribal rulers, the small, AED 3 entry fee allows visitors to learn more about the city and its people’s history at the Dubai Museum, nestled within the battlements.
Then there is the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, a place that focuses on raising awareness of the traditional cultures that live in Dubai. The centre offers a range of activities including guided cultural tours (AED 80 – 275 per person), cultural meals (AED 90 – 120 per person) and visits to the grand Jumeriah Mosque (AED 20 per person).
If you love art, Al Bastakiya is a brilliant place to visit. Galleries include the Majlis Gallery, which hosts exhibitions of local and international artists; the XVA, a smaller art gallery dedicated to local artists; and the Ostra, a contemporary art and sculpture gallery.
After all that exploring, make sure to visit one of the area’s cafés, including the Emirates’ oldest tea house, Bharmal Teas, and Basta Art Café, whose garden is the perfect place to unwind after learning more about Dubai’s often overlooked history and cultural heritage.
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