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Dubai Museum at Al Fahidi Fort: Comprehensive Guide

    The Dubai Museum, situated in the Al Fahidi Fort, is among the earliest and most intriguing museums in Dubai. It is entirely dedicated to the city’s history prior to the discovery of oil. Many travelers are drawn to Dubai by its stunning modern architecture and vibrant lifestyle, often unaware that until recently, the landscape was dominated by desert and small villages of fishermen, pearl divers, and merchants.

    The Dubai Museum serves as an excellent venue to explore the fascinating past of Dubai and the surrounding region. It is housed in a building of significant historical and symbolic value to the city: the Al Fahidi Fort. Constructed in 1787, the fort is the oldest standing building in Dubai.

    Inaugurated in 1971 by the ruler of Dubai, the museum was intended to showcase the traditional lifestyle of the Dubai Emirate. Visitors can admire the ancient towers, old buildings constructed from coral rock and mortar, a tall dhow (a traditional boat), and a series of exhibitions within the fort. These include a collection of old weapons from various historical periods, a model of the old city, and a large collection of local antiquities and artifacts.

    Dubai Museum at Al Fahidi Fort: A Glimpse into Dubai’s Fascinating Past

    Dubai made an incredible leap from a tribal village to a futuristic metropolis in less than two decades. This transformation is a true economic and social miracle that profoundly changed the urban fabric, lifestyle, and way of life of the natives. This incredibly fascinating story is well told in the Dubai Museum, the first in the city’s collection of local history museums, which also boasts other exceptional venues such as the Etihad Museum.

    Renowned for its futuristic ambiance and modernity, Dubai has a relatively recent history of development. The city’s skyscrapers, luxury, and modernity are a testament to its recent past, which is closely tied to the intensive exploitation of oil resources and Dubai’s strategic positioning at the heart of international commerce and financial exchanges. However, until a few years ago, the appearance of the city and the lifestyle of the region were markedly different!

    Dubai Museum Al Fahidi Fort Dubai

    The transformation of Dubai into a modern city began in 1992, spurred by the need to develop business centers and promote tourism, given the significant foreign investments attracted by the United Arab Emirates between the 1970s and 1980s. However, it was not until the 2000s that Dubai evolved into the futuristic metropolis we recognize today.

    Despite its rapid modernization, Dubai has a rich history spanning thousands of years. Just a few decades ago, it was a small tribal village, a hub of naval and caravan trade, nestled between the Persian Gulf and the desert. This and other stories are told by the Dubai Museum in the Al Fahidi Fort, the city’s oldest standing structure, dating back to 1787.

    Located in the picturesque setting of the Al Fahidi Historical District and Al Bastakiya, one of the few corners of the city to have survived intact as it was before the discovery of oil, the museum offers the opportunity to delve into the cultural history and traditions of the desert dwellers who once inhabited this part of the Arabian Peninsula.

    Set up in collaboration with museum experts brought specifically from Kuwait and inaugurated by the Ruler of Dubai in 1971, coinciding with the founding of the United Arab Emirates federation, the Dubai Museum aims to narrate the historical and cultural roots of Dubai and preserve the traditions and lifestyles of the Emirates before the oil era. This is certainly an important mission, given that modernity here has clearly swept away the ancient lifestyle.

    The Al Fahidi Fort, an ancient fortress built in 1787 and now considered Dubai’s oldest building, was chosen as the museum’s location. Initially, the fort served as a defensive structure, protecting the town and port, the center of trade and fishing, which were the primary economic activities of the emirate at the time. Over the years, the fort has served various purposes, including a residence for local rulers, a weapons depot, and a prison. Despite these changes, the fort remains largely intact, and today is one of the few well-preserved historic buildings in the city.

    Things to Do and Exhibitions in Dubai Museum at Al Fahidi Fort

    The Dubai Museum at Al Fahidi Fort was established with the express purpose of showcasing the life, culture, and traditions of the people, tracing Dubai’s evolution from a fishing and pearl-producing village to a global hub of trade, economy, and tourism. Therefore, the various exhibitions retrace aspects of the daily life of the past and characteristic elements of local culture and society.

    The museum is divided into various rooms, which show the different phases of life in Dubai, before and after the oil boom. Wide resonance is given to the historical and cultural origins of the region, but also to how the commercial skills of its inhabitants contributed to its flourishing development. The first thing you notice when entering the museum is its fascinating historical architecture: the fort is well preserved as it was hundreds of years ago, with its vaguely square shape, the typical wind towers (used in Arab countries to cool buildings in summer), and the cannon towers.

    Dubai and the Ancient Merchant Routes

    In the courtyard, you can admire a traditional summer house, called arish, and a dhow, the typical sailing ship used by merchants since ancient times. There is no need to go back centuries: the Bur Dubai’s traditional market reproduced in the Dubai Museum dates back to the 1950s, and you can walk among its stalls which tell something about the economy and local life of the time.

    Until the oil boom, Dubai was little more than a village and its inhabitants were mainly dedicated to pearl harvesting, date cultivation, and goat and camel breeding. The heart of the town pulsated with shops and markets, animated by merchants arriving from the sea and caravans from the desert. For this reason, the Dubai Museum also has a rich collection of artifacts from the Asian and African countries with which the city had its trade routes: ceramics, local crafts, and weapons.

    The Traditional Houses and Ways of Living in Old Dubai

    Part of the Dubai Museum depicts how people once lived in Dubai. Here too, we go back a few years, being able to admire how, at the beginning of the 20th century, people lived in traditional homes in the desert, and how a traditional house looked before the oil boom and the consequent modern development.

    Through reconstructions and dioramas, it is shown what the interior of a traditional house looked like. This offers an interesting perspective on the customs and daily lives of the locals. It is truly fascinating to see how the way of life has changed over the course of a few years.

    Life in the Desert and Stories of Pearl Seekers

    In our opinion, one of the most interesting exhibitions is the one that narrates how the local economy and society were structured until the mid-20th century. These fascinating and remote lands were dotted with villages, nomadic desert camps, and caravans that made long and difficult journeys through the boundless sandy desert that covers the Arabian Peninsula, which is the largest in the world!

    The exhibition depicts life in the desert oases, among caravans, stories, and songs that rise in the desert night. Cultivation and livestock farming in this harsh environment were one of the main means of subsistence, while villages of fishermen, sailors, and pearl divers mainly developed along the coast. Just like Dubai.

    The exhibitions on the desert and the sea tell the importance that natural resources, in particular, fishing and pearls, have had for the economy of the local populations. In these exhibitions, you can see all the devotion that the inhabitants of Dubai have for the desert and the sea, and what were the tools and domestic objects of the time, as well as a brief overview of the typical local boats and how they were built.

    The Folklore Wing

    The Dubai Museum rounds off its captivating exhibitions with a section devoted entirely to local folklore. This section provides a comprehensive overview of traditional crafts, daily life, and the customs and traditions of the local population. Here, you’ll gain a deep understanding of the historical and cultural roots of the local inhabitants. Even though Dubai is a multicultural metropolis today, this section allows you to appreciate the depth and richness of the local culture, which is far removed from the stereotypes and glossy image that the world often associates with Dubai and the modern UAE.

    You’ll have the opportunity to explore various dioramas and immerse yourself in the stories that depict life in the past. This is facilitated through videos, images, interactive experiences, and a vast collection of objects ranging from food preparation utensils to traditional clothing and costumes. To top it all off, there’s a dedicated area for traditional music, boasting a rich collection of musical instruments and drums. This section truly brings the sounds of the past to life, adding another layer to your understanding of Dubai’s rich cultural heritage.

    Old Dubai Fortification

    Obviously, you cannot visit the Dubai Museum without discovering the history of Al Fahidi Fort and its strategic importance for the Dubai of the past. We believe it is worth visiting this museum also just to admire the fort: a sort of large sand castle now nestled among the bustling streets of modern Dubai.

    Once upon a time, Al Fahidi Fort was the heart of the city’s defense system. This is narrated inside the museum, where you will have the opportunity to see the old ammunition depots which have now been converted to house a rich collection of weapons, rifles and swords, once used to defend the city and to protect merchant caravans from attacks.

    How to Visit the Dubai Museum

    Currently, you can only admire Al Fahidi Fort and the Dubai Museum from the outside. The museum is currently undergoing extensive renovation work and is therefore closed to visitors. Local authorities have not yet released an estimate of when it will be possible to visit again.

    Discover the Ancient Charm of Dubai

    While in Dubai, seize the opportunity to delve into its timeless allure. Stroll through its historic neighborhoods and visit age-old residences that now serve as quaint museums and cafés. You have the option to join a guided tour or independently navigate the maze-like alleys that meander along both banks of Dubai Creek, the waterway that bisects Dubai’s old town.

    Embark on a journey through time as you explore the beautifully preserved ancient homes of Al Bastakiya and Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House, which was once the royal residence of Dubai’s ruler and has since been converted into a museum. Venture further to Deira and immerse yourself in the bustling atmosphere of the Dubai Souks, including the most renowned and dazzling of them all: the Dubai Gold Souk. Don’t forget to take a break at a local eatery to sample some local street food, or unwind with a refreshing cup of tea or coffee.

    How to get to Dubai Museum

    The most economical way to get to the Dubai Museum is by utilizing public transportation. You can hop on the Dubai Metro or bus and alight at either Al Ghubaiba or Al Fahidi stations. From these stations, a brief 10-minute stroll will lead you straight to the museum.

    If your itinerary includes a visit to the Gold Souk or the Dubai Spice Souk, which are situated on the northern side of Dubai Creek, you can opt for an abra (a small wooden boat) to cross over to the other side. This scenic ride costs a mere 1 AED. Upon disembarking, a walk through the Textile Souk will bring you to the museum.

    For those who prefer a comprehensive tour of Dubai’s must-see spots with the convenient Hop On Hop Off Bus service, reaching the Dubai Museum and other nearby attractions is a breeze! The bus stop is conveniently located right in front of the museum.

    Things to Do Near the Dubai Museum

    Strategically nestled between Bur Dubai, the epicenter of Dubai’s growth since the 1990s, and the historic core of Deira, the Dubai Museum is a must-visit. Make sure to explore Deira and the Gold Souk, the vibrant Dubai Souks, and the charming Al Bastakiya, also known as the Al Fahidi Historical District. This district is a treasure trove of ancient houses, wind towers, and winding avenues, offering ample opportunities for photography, small museums, art galleries, and quaint yet quality restaurants. As dusk descends, don’t miss the chance to embark on a tranquil cruise along Dubai Creek.

    Planning your trip to Dubai? Then you should check out our GUIDE TO THE BEST THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN DUBAI. Don’t miss the chance to learn more about Dubai’s exciting history and culture, discover the BEST MUSEUMS IN DUBAI.