Strolling through a Sliver of History

The Bastakiya (also known as the Al Fahidi Historical District), a sliver of Dubai’s fragile history, huddles close to the Ruler’s Court and the Creek. It has been beautifully restored and allows for a glimpse into the past, even if it feels a bit artificial and on show. As we visited on a Saturday, many of the old houses that open for the public at specified times, were closed. The Bastakiya was slumbering in the early summer heat, and it was only a handful of brave tourists that wandered through the narrow lanes.

This part of Dubai used to be its beating heart. The Bastakiya dates back from the 1890s when traders from Iran made this their home and named it after the Iranian town of Bastak. The many wind towers or barjeel are typical features of Persian architecture and an ingenious way of air conditioning, while the number built not only kept the family cool during the sweltering summers, but also reflected the financial status of the home owners.

As with all rapidly growing cities, the past is often overlooked or simply discarded without a second thought. In the 1970s half of the Bastakiya was demolished to make space for a new building, The Ruler’s Court. The rest fell into disrepair and in 1989 the Dubai municipality scheduled the final demolition of what was left. As the story goes, British expat and architect Rayner Otter, who renovated and lived in one of these houses, made it his mission to save this enclave from being completely wiped out. He wrote to Prince Charles who is known for his passion to preserve architectural gems. On his subsequent formal visit to Dubai he met with Rayner Otter and toured the area, before he met with the Sheikh. Shortly after this visit the Dubai municipality scrapped its plans and in 2001 restoration was started under the watchful eye of Emirati architect Rashad Bukhash.

As we aimlessly wandered through the winding streets we discovered a coin museum with an impressive collection, quiet courtyards, interesting shops and shady spots to guzzle refreshing drinks or having long, leisurely lunches. At the Orient Guest House we received an impromptu guided tour, where the tastefully decorated rooms convinced us that staying in the Bastakiya, and exploring it at night will be an experience to treasure. One we will most certainly come back for.

This is not the heart beat of Dubai anymore, but a tranquil space where one can become aware of one’s own heart beat, and the quiet breath of the past.

** The closest metro station is (25) Al Fahidi on the Green Line. Use exit 4 and keep walking in the direction of the Creek. The Bastakiya will be on your left.