Dubai’s story 20150804T052948 20160421T150448:635968478880705356 Heritage & Culture

How do you grow a tiny fishing village into one of the world’s busiest cities in less than 50 years? This is the history of Dubai. 

From humble seaside town to modern metropolis.

From humble fishing village to the world's most iconic metropolises

When you observe the sprawling desert city packed with gleaming high-rise towers that Dubai has become today, it is hard to imagine that this monument to the modern world started out as a tiny fishing village. While the discovery of oil in the 1950s and 1960s was a turning point for Dubai's development, Dubai does, in fact, have a rich history that actually began centuries before.

Dubai-history-heritage-sheik-zayed-road-(3) The ancient history of a desert region

Dubai's roots reach all the way back to 3000 BCE. The site where Dubai now lies used to be a vast mangrove swamp, and by 3000 BCE that swamp had dried up and become inhabitable. It is thought that Bronze Age nomadic cattle herders were the first to settle in the area and by 2500 BCE, they had established a thriving date palm plantation - the first time the site was successfully used for agriculture.

Skip by a couple of millennia of quiet farming, and by the fifth century CE the area we now know as Jumeirah, which is home to beautiful beachside villas, had become a caravan station along the trade route linking Oman to what is now Iraq.

The earliest recorded mention of Dubai is in 1095 in the Book of Geography by the Andalusian-Arab geographer Abu Abdullah al-Bakri. The Venetian pearl merchant Gaspero Balbi visited the area in 1580 and mentioned Dubai (Dibei) for its pearling industry.

The livelihood of the area's inhabitants was based on fishing, pearl diving, boat building, and providing accommodation and sustenance for the traders, who would pass through on their way to sell gold, spices and textiles - the very wares that can be found in our souks today.

The next milestone in the history of the UAE comes in 1793 when the Bani Yas tribe assumed political power and settled in Abu Dhabi, with Dubai becoming a dependency. Thirty years or so of jostling for position followed, during which time the area was beset with many tribal wars, which discouraged foreign traders from passing through, affecting the economy.

The Al Fahidi Fort was built around that time, now the site of the Dubai Museum, and records show that in the early 1800s Dubai was a walled city. The wall on the Bur Dubai side was from Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood through Al Fahidi Fort and ended at the Old Souq. On the Deira side, Al Ras area was walled.

However, in 1820, Britain negotiated at maritime truce with local rulers, meaning that the trade routes would be open and business would thrive once again.

Souks in Dubai Fishing, pearl diving and international trading

In 1833, Maktoum bin Butti of the Bani Yas tribe lead his people to the Shindagha Peninsula at the mouth of Dubai Creek, settling there and declaring the town's independence from Abu Dhabi. Today, even with all the massive changes the emirate has undergone, the Al Maktoum dynasty still rules Dubai.

Under the Al Maktoum leadership, Dubai began to thrive, and in 1894 trading in the area was given yet another boost as new rules granting tax exemption for expatriates saw a huge influx in the number of foreign workers, with Indian and Pakistani traders descending to take advantage of the excellent business conditions.

While this was a reasonably successful period in Dubai's history, it was still wholly reliant on fishing, trading and pearl diving, and when artificial pearls were invented in Japan in the 1950s, the vulnerability of the region's economy was exposed. However, the financial downturn did not last long, as in 1966 suddenly everything changed for Dubai: it struck oil.

Modern Dubai

Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum began the development of Dubai transforming the city from a small cluster of settlements near the Dubai Creek to a modern port city and commercial hub.

Bolstered by oil, Sheikh Rashid began developing the infrastructure that would support Dubai's goals to become a leading trade hub. Rashid Port, Jebel Ali Port, Dubai Drydocks, the widening of the Dubai Creek, and the Dubai World Trade Center were some of the major projects completed at the time.

Ever conscious of the limited supply of oil, Sheikh Rashid was determined not to allow Dubai to become dependent on oil. "My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel," said Sheikh Rashid, telling people that the oil wouldn't last.

In 1971, the United Arab Emirates was formed to safeguard the area's prosperity and ensure that the vast and newly discovered riches would be distributed fairly. And since the formation of the UAE, it is fair to say that the country has not looked back.

Leadership and vision allowed the UAE to push ahead with ambitious building and social projects and in the space of just half a century, Dubai exploded in growth, building modern wonders such as the Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa. now so widely associated with Dubai.

The most impressive thing about our rapid growth is that, largely thanks to the visionary leadership of the government, the infrastructure that has been built will see Dubai continue to thrive. "Impossible is an illusion nesting in the minds of the unable," said His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai. And that has been the drive behind most of Dubai's development, home of the Spirit of Possible.

Your first time in Dubai? Check out the city’s ​must-see attractions and see the ​​most photogenic spots in Dubai.

English Dubai Corporation of Tourism & Commerce Marketing
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