Dubai Balances Shiny Resorts, Old Arab Charm

DUBAI -- Dubai, one of the seven United Arab Emirates, shares its name with its thoroughly modern capital city, one that looks like a mirage of shiny glass-and-chrome buildings rising from desert and sea.

Furthermore, with its present push for trade and commerce, Dubai acts like an entrepot on the way to becoming the Arabian Gulf version of Hong Kong.

Part of this push includes tourism, particularly cruise tourism, which is the focus of government efforts to establish the destination as the premier cruise port of the Arab world. During 1997, 8,000 cruise passengers came to Dubai on 14 vessels; 23,000 are expected by 2000 when the new passenger cruise terminal will be operating.

For other reasons, the city of Dubai is actually a good cruise hub candidate (or base for a land itinerary) in this part of the world. In addition to big and comfortable hotels and resorts, the city is attractive, and the Dubai Creek that runs through it and the wooden dhows that ply the waters add a nice old Araby charm.

Furthermore, scattered around Dubai are other rememberances of things past, including a number of historic buildings and sites that have been restored and adapted to safeguard the emirate's rich cultural heritage. The most spectacular of these is the Dubai Museum, housed in the restored Al Fahidi Fort, which was erected in 1787 to defend the city against invasion and renovated for use as a museum in 1993. Its underground area feature walk-in dioramas that illustrate the history, lifestyles and traditional activities practiced in the emirate. The Dubai Museum

The museum also is the repository of archaeological finds -- pottery, weaponry and coinage -- that point to civilized settlements in Dubai dating to the third millennium B.C. At present, there are four main excavation sites in Dubai: at Al Qusais, Al Sufooh, Jumeirah and Hatta. The first two are graveyards dating back more than 2,000 years; the Jumeirah site has surrendered artifacts from the seventh to 15th centuries. These sites are not yet open to the public; however, on request for interested parties, local tour operators may obtain a permit to visit the digs from the Dubai Museum.

Another historic home, the official residence of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai (1912-1958) and the grandfather of the present ruler, has been restored and houses an exhibit of photos, paintings, lithographs and art objects that portray the early development of the emirate. Typical of 19th century Arabian architecture, the house is a fine example of Islamic art and building design; the facade of the house is dominated by an example of what is perhaps the world's earliest form of air conditioning: four elegant windtowers that were the traditional means of cooling the interior.

Near the mouth of Dubai Creek is Dubai's Heritage and Diving Village. The heritage section features potters and weavers practicing their traditional crafts, and there are exhibits and demonstrations of pearl diving. Development of the cultured pearl in the 1940s spelled the end of Dubai's pearling prosperity; however, enterprising local merchants bounded back, developing a thriving trade in gold.

Today's gold souk is not a museum but part of a living and bustling bazaar, where coffeepots (the traditional symbol of desert hospitality) gleam and the air is filled with the aromas of Middle Eastern spices and perfumes.

The Emirate of Dubai maintains two offices in the U.S., well stocked with informative sales promotion materials.

Dubai Commerce and Tourism Promotion Board, Phone: (215) 751-9750 or (310) 752-4488

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI