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Arts & Culture

Five things you didn't know about Dubai Creek

Mon, June 21, 2021

You may already be familiar with Dubai Creek as the cultural heart of the city, but there’s so much more to appreciate.

You may already be familiar with Dubai Creek as the cultural heart of the city, but there’s so much more to appreciate.


The creek has a long history...and used to be much bigger

Dubai Creek’s history stretches back many thousands of years – the ancient Greeks knew it as the 'River Zara', and the creek has been a site for fishing and trade for millennia. There’s also evidence that it used to stretch much further inland than the 10km or so it does today. In fact, some geological discoveries suggest the waterway may have reached almost to the modern-day border with Oman, around 150km from Dubai.


It was an ancient pearl diving site

Before becoming the trading hub that built the foundation of modern Dubai, the creek was a centre for pearl diving – possibly as far back as 7000 years ago. Teams of divers based around the creek would head out to sea in search of pearls, sometimes for months at a time. Pearl diving was a lucrative occupation back then and Dubai pearls were in high demand right up until the early 20th century when artificially-cultured pearls were developed in Japan, coming to dominate the market by the 1930s. Pearl diving is still celebrated as a key part of Emirati culture today, and visitors can learn more at the Dubai Pearl Museum.


Boats were the only way to cross until 1963

Until the first bridge over the creek was built in 1963, the only way to get across the water was by boat – often by abra, the small wooden ferries which still operate today, albeit in a slightly modernised form. While bridges may be more convenient for cars, it’s easy to see the advantages of an abra for pedestrians: the trip was quick, traffic-free, and could take passengers almost directly from the commercial hub of Bur Dubai to that of Deira, or vice-versa. Today, abras are still used by plenty of commuters, and are a must-try experience for visitors.


The creek is ever-changing

The Dubai Creek has changed and evolved many times over the centuries, and continues to be developed today. As Dubai grew as a trading hub, the creek became silted up through natural erosion, making it increasingly difficult for larger ships to navigate the inlet. In the 1950s and 60s, Dubai’s rulers dredged the creek and worked on its banks, widening the waterway and creating sturdy walls, quays and wharfages, as well as bridges and tunnels to cross the water. The most dramatic development has been the recent extension of the creek inland and back to the sea through the creation of the Dubai Water Canal, which was inaugurated in 2016.


The creek is home to flamingos

Before the Dubai Canal came along, the creek ended in a natural saltwater wetland known as Ras Al Khor. An official wildlife sanctuary since 1985, Ras Al Khor has always been the home of dozens of species of birds, including some regular migratory visitors and many other animals. The most famous inhabitants are its flamingos, which gather in large flocks in the shallow water, and make an impressive sight. Just a few minutes from Downtown Dubai by car, it feels a world away from the pace of the city.

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