The Dubai Museum, located across Dubai Creek on the Bur Dubai side, provides a number of diverse reasons why a visitor, even the casual two and half day stop over tourist, should pay a visit to this location in an equally interesting and diverse area of the city.
Dubai did exist before the days of the “Dubai Miracle”
First, the location of the museum is in one of the areas of Dubai least affected by all the changes of the last 15-20 years.
The maze of little streets, bound by Al Fahidi Street (nearer to the Creek), Al Musalla Street (to the northeast), Khalid bin Al Walid Street (northwest) and Al Hisn Street (or Al Nahdha Street a block further west) are a fascinating and colorful warren of fabric shops, tailoring shops, little restaurants, and other small businesses.
Even if you only devote an hour or two to the museum, you can easily spend twice that time in this bustling quadrilateral of commerce, just wandering, window-shopping, and getting a sensory feel for the Dubai that seems light years removed from the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall, artificial indoor ski ramps, the skyscrapers of the Dubai Marina, and the opulence and extravagance of the Dubai Palm.
The Dubai Museum is a museum piece in and of itself
It is, in fact, the oldest building in Dubai. One section dates from 1787, and was probably built to deter undesirables from navigating their way up the Dubai Creek. You can get to it easily from either side of the Creek.
If you’re coming from the Deira side, make your way to the Abra station and enjoy one of the best bargains you’ll find in Dubai – a creek crossing by a traditional wooden water taxi for a fare of just 1 dirham (that’s $US 0.27 cents).
When you alight at the Bur Dubai Abra Station, just walk inland about 150 metres, and you’re there.
If you’re coming from the Bur Dubai side and have easy access to the Dubai Metro, anywhere on the system, ride to Al Fahidi Metro Station. From there, it is a 750-metre or 9-minute walk. A word of caution – in the very hot months, even a short walk like this might really be too much, so in those circumstances, take a taxi from the Metro Station. It won’t cost more than 10 dirhams.
So what can I expect to see in the Museum?
Start with the display objects outside (if the heat permits). There’s a traditional dhow and the ancestor of the electric-powered abra that brought you across the Creek. There’s a model of a traditional Gulf-Arab home, complete with wind-tower, and finally (for me, most interestingly), a fully working model of a wind-tower.
This is the traditional, pre-air conditioning way to beat the heat – it’s a local adaptation of what was probably a Persian/Iranian innovation. To learn more about wind-towers, read here.
After your visit to the museum, have a look up at the rooflines of more modern buildings all over Dubai. You will see the outlines of the wind-tower incorporated into the architectural designs of many of the buildings.
This is one way of distinguishing what is a modern interpretation of a traditional feature in buildings, as opposed to others – which owe more to science fantasy graphic novels than any link to the Arabian Gulf past.
What about the inside?
The Dubai Museum is considerably bigger than the building suggests from its exterior dimensions. It’s kind of like the “TARDIS” from Doctor Who – bigger on the inside – because a sizeable basement has been excavated underneath the building, and this is where most tours of the building and its exhibits begin. Best of all, it’s fully air-conditioned.
There are static displays of old maps of the Arabian Peninsula, along with maps of the coastline and hinterland, specifically related to Dubai and its Creek.
Most visitors will be very interested in the audio-visual display, showing Dubai before the discovery of oil, and then the steady and increasingly rapid progress the city made after the UAE’s formation and formal establishment in December 1971. (The last update to this display was made in 2007, so a more current one, incorporating the last nine years must be due very soon.)
Life-size dioramas with highly realistic mannequins chart the traditional occupations of Dubai’s city dwellers in days past. There are recreations of small shops and trading establishments, a dhow unloading its cargo, various craftsmen and artisans at work, and the whole display beautifully lit and accompanied by a soundtrack to give a very authentic impression of street life in old Creekside Dubai.
All facets of past Dubai life, both maritime and desert-dwelling, are covered in subsequent displays. You’ll learn about archeological (much still ongoing) work, uncovering human settlements dating back 5000 years, the fauna and flora of the area, and also the sea life that abounds in the Gulf.
You’ll come away with an increased awareness of the key distinctions between the coastal dwelling Arabs, the Khaleejis or sea-shore inhabitants, and their inland cousins, the Bedu or desert nomad Bedouin, who would come to Dubai to buy, sell, and trade then drift back into the sandy and mountainous hinterland they were more comfortable and familiar with.
As you leave, there is of course, a museum shop where you can buy replicas of artifacts from the museum, postcards, photographs, and the like – they make good small gifts to take home.
And finally, what does it cost?
A lot less than the Louvre, but more than the British Museum (which is of course, free).
The entrance fee for adults is a mere 3 dirhams (or slightly less than $US 0.80 cents). For children, it’s barely half that.
It doesn’t take long to go through – there’s no likelihood of that sensory exhaustion that comes on anywhere between an hour or two into any tour of a great European museum or art gallery.
Some visitors appreciate it for what it is and for what you can learn, while others compare it perhaps a bit unfairly with the kinds of museums I referred to above. You can read for yourselves below, but for the time it takes and the cost of the experience, I highly recommend a visit.