10 surprising things you may not know about Dubai

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Things to know about Dubai https://www.visitdubai.com/en/articles/things-you-didnt-know-about-dubai 20200705T102753 20200705T103006:637295418066381244 Dubai's Heritage and Culture Dubai makes headlines for the world's biggest and best, but there's so much more to our fascinating city. Discover a different side to Dubai with these lesser-known facts. Discover a different side to Dubai with these lesser-known facts.

Most visitors to Dubai probably already know that the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world or that it’s home to spectacular beaches, but there are plenty of lesser-known facts about the city. For example, did you know that people have lived in Dubai for many millennia? Read on to discover more about Dubai.


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1. Humans arrived in Dubai a long, long time ago

Dubai's growth has been phenomenal in the last few decades, but it's an area that has long been the site of human communities. Archaeological finds such as spearheads have revealed that there were humans in the area over 100,000 years ago. Back then the region was largely grassland, making it a great place for those early hunter-gatherers to rear their livestock.

If you'd like to know more about archaeological finds in Dubai, visit the Saruq Al-Hadid museum, which showcases the latest discoveries from a desert site that was a centre for metalworking around three thousand years ago.

2. Dubai has links to a mysterious ancient civilisation

There are few records of Dubai that date back to before the 18th century, so it's difficult to know whether those first early human visitors stuck around. However, archaeologists have found evidence to suggest that the land that now constitutes Dubai was inhabited around 2500BCE, during what is known as the Umm an‐Nar period.

It is also thought that the settlers of this period had links to the mysterious Magan civilisation. These ancient people controlled the region's lucrative copper trade, and were famous for their superior shipbuilding skills.

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3. Bedouin people helped to shape the city

Bedouin or desert dwellers have lived throughout the UAE, including Dubai, for thousands of years. Taking their name from the Arabic word 'badawiyin', meaning 'people of the desert', the first tribes to arrive in the region were mainly nomadic camel herders. However, Bedouins went onto many different trades, including working as fishermen and pearl divers – building the wooden dhow boats that are still used in the Dubai Creek today.

Their tenacity and adaptability helped to fuel Dubai's growth in its early stages. Today, many of the Bedouin tribes have kept their traditions alive, living in desert communities and speaking their original Badawi language alongside Arabic.

4. Dubai had the first public school in the Emirates

Founded in 1912 by pearl merchant Sheikh Mohammed bin Ahmed bin Dalmouk, Al Ahmadiya School provided an education for children from all different backgrounds. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, is a former pupil. Located in Deira, it was the first public school in the region. While the curriculum was originally focused around the study of the Quran, it later included subjects such as science and geography, as well as vocations such as pearl diving.

The school became too small to cater to all of its pupils by the late 1950s, so teaching was moved to a new location. In 1994 work began to lovingly restore the building in order to preserve its traditional Emirati architecture, converting it into a museum detailing the educational history of the city.

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5. Pearl diving was Dubai's first major industry

Before oil was discovered in Dubai in the late 1960s, the city's main trade was pearl diving. In the early 20th century, there were around 300 dhows working from Dubai Creek, employing more than 7,000 men. By 1917, this included almost the entire male population of Dubai.

Pearl diving was certainly no easy profession – sailors would be away at sea from May to September, diving for up to 14 hours each day. It also required great skill; divers reached depths of up to 40 feet on a single breath, scouring the seabed with a weight tied around their waist.

Keen to know more? Dubai has a dedicated Pearl Museum that features an exquisite collection of rare Arabian pearls alongside a collection of diving equipment, tools, maps and more.

6. Dubai's oldest building is over 230 years old

Dubai is famous for its stunning modern skyline, as well as for its historic architecture. The city's oldest building is Al Fahidi Fort, and its construction dates back to 1787. Back then it was used to guard the town from attacks by land and sea.

In 1969, it was announced the the unused building would be converted into a museum. Two years later it was officially open, offering the public a chance to learn more about Dubai's history and glimpse artefacts dating as far back as 3000BCE. The Dubai Museum attracted thousands of visitors each year until it closed for renovation in 2020. 

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7. Cars were rare in the 1960s

Dubai grew rapidly from the late 1960s, thanks to the discovery of its oil reserves in 1966.

A great example of just how much the city has changed is by the number of cars on its roads. Today there are around 1.4 million registered vehicles in Dubai, but can you guess how many there were in 1968? It may be hard to imagine now, but back then there were just 13 registered cars in the city!

8. You can see the UAE Founding Fathers in Hatta

The United Arab Emirates was formed in 1971, with six of the seven emirates coming together to create the new country (the seventh joined in 1972). The arrangement was led by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former ruler of Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the former ruler of Dubai. In 2017, the UAE's founding fathers were celebrated through an 80-metre high mural, painted alongside the Hatta Dam. Created by German street artist Case Maclaimon, the artwork is one of the largest murals in the world.

The city of Hatta is historically important for other reasons, too. Archaeologists have found more than 50 ancient tombs in the area, as well as jewellery and painted rocks.


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9. Falconry is an ancient tradition

Falcons have long been associated with Emirati culture, and for good reason. These majestic birds have been a crucial asset for the Bedouin for thousands of years, and have been trained to hunt for prey in the isolated desert. Over more recent years falconry has become a very popular sport in Dubai – so much so that the city has a hospital dedicated to them, and they are also the only birds allowed to travel inside planes.

Pay a visit to the Falcon and Heritage Sports Centre in Nad Al Sheba to learn more about the role of these amazing creatures in Emirati culture.


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10. Dubai is home to a 3D-printed office building

Dubai hit headlines in 2016 when it became the first city in the world to have successfully constructed a building using 3D-printing techniques. Three years later, in December 2019, the emirate achieved another first – the world's first 3D-printed office building, which also happens to be the largest 3D-printed building in the world.

The two-storey office buildings stands at 9.5 metres tall, and took only three construction workers and a printer to erect. There will actually be many more 3D-printed buildings popping up over the city over the next decade – the government has set a target to use 3D printing in 25% of all building construction by 2030.


If you want to learn more about the city while you're here, visit Dubai's top attractions or read up on the history of Dubai.

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