Dubai's evolution from fishing village to modern metropolis
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 inspirational place started out as a tiny fishing village. While the discovery of oil in the 1960s was a turning point for the emirate’s development, Dubai does, in fact, have a rich history that actually began centuries before.
3000 BCE to 5th century CE
Dubai's roots reach all the way back to the early Minoan period. 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 during 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.
1000 to 1700s
The earliest mention of Dubai was recorded in 1095, in the Book of Geography by Andalusian-Arab geographer Abu Abdullah Al Bakri. Other records like the journal of Venetian pearl merchant Gaspero Balbi, dates back to 1580 when he visited the area for its pearl trade.
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.
1800 to 1832
Records show that Dubai was a walled city in the early 1800s. The Al Fahidi Fort was built around the same time Dubai became a dependency, now the site of the Dubai Museum. 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.
1833 to 1893
A milestone year in Dubai’s history, Maktoum bin Butti of the Bani Yas tribe lead his people to the Shindagha Peninsula at the mouth of Dubai Creek in 1833, settling there and declaring the town's independence from Abu Dhabi. From then onwards, Dubai was regarded as a fishing village. Today, even with all the massive changes the emirate has undergone, the Al Maktoum dynasty still rules Dubai.
Visitors can imagine the city’s yesteryears with a walk along the banks of Dubai Creek. An anchor to the emirate’s heritage, the site is a hub of bustling activity with abras and boats gliding along the historic waterways.
1894 to 1966
Under the Al Maktoum leadership, Dubai began to thrive. 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. Indian and Pakistani traders descended to Dubai, 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. In 1966, everything suddenly changed for Dubai: it struck oil.
1966 to present day Dubai
With this newfound resource, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum began the development of Dubai – transforming the city from a small cluster of settlements near Dubai Creek to a modern port, city and commercial hub. Rashid Port, Jebel Ali Port, Dubai Drydocks, the widening of the Dubai Creek, and the Dubai World Trade Center were a few of the major projects completed at the time.
Leadership and vision allowed the UAE to push ahead with ambitious building and social projects. In the space of just half a century, Dubai exploded in growth, building modern wonders such as the Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa, which are now very closely associated with the metropolis.
Want to know more about Dubai? Discover Emirati traditions, embark on a walking tour of the city's iconic architecture or check out the best new attractions.