The best place to jump into Dubai’s past and better understand the history and traditions of the peoples of the United Arab Emirates is the Dubai Museum, located in Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest building in Dubai.
Understanding the history of Dubai: from tribal village to futuristic city in less than 20 years
Dubai is famous for its futuristic and modern atmosphere, but one must always keep in mind that its development is quite recent. Skyscrapers, luxury, modernity belong to a recent past, linked to the intensive exploitation of oil resources and to the fact that Dubai has been able to place itself at the center of the international scene of commercial and financial exchanges.
The development of Dubai as a modern city began in 1992, following the need to implement the parallel development of the business centers (since the Arab Emirates between the 70s and 80s had attracted significant foreign investments) and tourism. But it is only in the 2000s that the city developed to become the futuristic metropolis we know today.
Despite this, Dubai boasts a thousand-year history: until a few decades ago it was nothing more than a small tribal village, a center of naval trade and caravans, sandwiched between the waters of the Persian Gulf and the desert.
Even today we can explore the traces of Dubai’s past, taking a leap into the cultural history and traditions of the desert peoples who inhabited this part of the Arabian Peninsula.
We can do this by exploring the ancient districts of Dubai and above all taking a look at Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest building in the city, dating back to 1787.
The Dubai Museum in Al Fahidi Fort
Dubai Museum was opened in 1971, in the same year that the United Arab Emirates federation was founded. The Ruler of Dubai decided to build, with the help of museum experts from Kuwait, a museum to remember the traditions and ways of life in the Emirates before the discovery of oil.
Al Fahidi Fort was originally a defensive structure built to protect the port and city. Over the years it has been a garrison, a weapons depot and a prison. Despite the various dominations, the fort has remained practically intact and today houses the exhibits of the Dubai Museum, the main historical museum in the Emirates.
This museum was opened in 1971 with its intended goal being to show the life, culture, and traditions of the people. Since its initial opening, the Dubai Museum has grown and now has several exhibits.
Today the Dubai Museum is visited by thousands of visitors a day and is particularly crowded in the months between August and April.
What to See at The Dubai Museum
The visit to the Dubai Museum reveals the most unknown and authentic side of a city that has been able to transform itself to become the emblem of luxury and modernity.
Through the halls and exhibits of the Dubai Museum you will discover the different stages of life in Dubai, before and after the oil boom.
You will learn how Dubai’s strategic position and the trading skills of its inhabitants have contributed to the progress of a civilization deeply rooted in its historical and cultural origins.
The Dubai Museum has a rich collection of artifacts from the Asian and African countries with which the city had its trade routes: pottery, local crafts and weapons. They are also meticulously reconstructed environments that reflect the original atmosphere of the markets and ancient traditional houses.
One of the most interesting things to do at the Dubai Museum is to admire its historical architecture: everything is still perfectly preserved as it was hundreds of years ago and this can give an idea of how the city could have looked. It is possible to see the typical wind towers (used in the Arab countries to refresh buildings in summer) and the cannon towers. In the courtyard there is an Arish, the traditional summer house, and even a Dhow, the typical sailing ship used by merchants since ancient times.
Check out what the Dubai market was like in the 1950s
Until the oil boom, Dubai was little more than a village and its inhabitants mainly dedicated themselves to the collection of pearls, the cultivation of dates and the breeding of goats and camels. The heart of the village throbbed with shops and markets, animated by merchants who came from the sea and caravans from the desert.
In the Dubai Museum you can wander through the stalls of the Bur Dubai market of the 50s, discovering something more about the life and economy of Dubai’s past.
Look inside a traditional house
Stepping away (just a little) from the hustle and bustle of the markets we can discover closely how people lived in Dubai until a few years ago. In this wing of the Dubai Museum we can see the reconstruction of a traditional house and we can learn more about the customs of the place.
It is really interesting to see how the way of life has changed in the course of a few years.
From desert oases to the depths of the ocean
In this wing we are transported to the magical atmosphere of a desert oasis. We are surrounded by caravans, stories and songs that rise in the desert night.
But just take a step forward to find yourself in front of fishermen and pearl seekers. The exhibitions on the desert and on the sea recount the importance that natural resources, particularly fishing and pearls, have had for the economy of local populations. In these exhibitions you can see all the devotion that the inhabitants of Dubai have for the desert and the sea.
In this exhibition you can also learn something about typical local boats and how they were built.
Old Dubai Fortification
In the heart of the Al Fahidi Fort it is possible to see the ancient defensive systems of the city. In the rooms that were once an ammunition depot today a rich collection of weapons, guns and swords used to defend the city and to protect the merchants’ caravans from assaults are shown.
The Folklore Wing
The wings of the Dubai Museum dedicated to folklore show the typical local crafts, kitchen and work utensils, traditional clothes and costumes that belong to the Emirati culture. In addition, an entire wing is dedicated to traditional music, with a rich collection of musical instruments and drums.
Here you can learn a lot about the historical and cultural roots of the inhabitants of Dubai and find out how far they are from the stereotypes and the glossy image that the world has about Dubai and the Emirates.
Throughout the Dubai Museum, much space is given to videos, stories and interactive experiences that allow you to learn more about the history of this country.
Dubai Museum Tour
The best way to explore Dubai’s Old Town with its Dubai Museum and other wonderful historical and cultural attractions is with an experienced local guide.
Guided tours of the Dubai’s Old Town take place every day, usually at 10.30am and 2.30pm. The guide speaks fluent English and German and accompanies you through the streets of the historical district.
You will visit the most interesting museums, such as the Dubai Museum and the Coin Museum, and the most hidden gems of Al Bastakiya (the oldest district in Dubai). After crossing the Dubai Creek on a typical abra, your guide will take you through the most authentic parts of the souks, including the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk.
The tour lasts approximately 3 hours and includes all tickets and delicious tastings of authentic local street food, tea and coffee. Groups are usually very small (5 people), so book well in advance!
Dubai Museum Ticket Price
The entrance ticket to the Dubai Museum costs 3 AED for adults and 1 AED for children under the age of 6.
Dubai Museum Timings
Dubai Museum opening hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday to Thursday, and 2:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Fridays. Further information can be found on the Museum website.
Allow one to two hours for a visit.
How to get to Dubai Museum?
The cheapest way to reach the Dubai Museum is by public transport. Take the subway or the bus to Al Ghubaiba or Al Fahidi stations. From here you can take a 10-minute walk to the museum.
If you decide to visit the Dubai Museum after visiting the Gold Souk or the Spice Souk, which are located on the north side of Dubai Creek, you can take an abra (small wooden boat) to reach the opposite shore. It costs only 1 AED. From where the boat leaves you you will have to walk through the Textile Souk to the museum.
For those who have chosen to discover all the unmissable places in Dubai with the excellent Hop On Hop Off Bus service, reaching the Dubai Museum and nearby attractions is really easy! The bus stop is right in front of the museum.
Near the Dubai Museum it is worth seeing: the historical district of Al Bastakiya, the district of Deira (which was the city center until the late 1990s) and the Gold Souk. Towards sunset, don’t miss the chance to enjoy a cruise on 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 the exciting history and culture of Dubai and the UAE, discover the BEST MUSEUMS IN DUBAI.