One of the best words I can use to describe Dubai is “Surreal”. The way the light hits the buildings, bleached of colour and towering in stature. The grandeur in its clean and tidy splendour that feels simultaneously ancient and new.
Although it has a long and rich history, nothing in Dubai is truly old. The city has sprung to life from the ashes of the old, with the speed and glamour of an F1 racer. It is easy to be so overwhelmed by the final picture; it is difficult to see which colours went into painting it.
Being the history lover I am, learning more about the story of Old Dubai held (and still holds), a great fascination for me. Unlike many big cities where the old sits along side the new, this is not the case in Dubai; the adventurer in you must seek it out.
The obvious starting point, and where I began my journey not long after stepping off the plane (not rest for the wicked), was in Old Dubai. Somewhat of a misnomer, Old Dubai (or Al Fahidi Historic District) is instead a replica of the old style of buildings, alleyways and quarters that made up the earlier Bedouin settlements on the mouth of the Gulf. Many of these settlers were Iranian, and their style of architecture is mimicked in these buildings. Their open turrets providing the first known natural air conditioning, with poles and wet sheet systems.
I consider myself very fortunate to have had the most excellent guide who shared so many nuggets of history with me. Xavier has a real passion for his adopted city, and I was to discover, the majority of the population are all adoptees. With me for the week, Xavier (of 1001 Events) gave a whole new depth to my journey that could not have been gained from guidebooks, answering my incessant questioning with insight and humour. Not only of the historical and economical, but also the idiosyncratic.
Wandering the warm alleyways of Old Dubai, I felt I’d landed in quite the other world. Perhaps it was the jet lag and the warmth, but there was a distinct feel of stepping out of the Tardis and into another realm. Sandstone walls took on a silken texture, colourful enamelware whispered stories and a lone Raven called from atop a towers edge.
A generation of shopkeepers stops to tell me the stories of the enamel portraits, painted by great artists and the brush of a single hair. Pride and awe fills their voices as tales of beauty light their eyes.