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Old Dubai

Old Dubai

Where does the name Dubai come from?

There are several theories as to how Dubai was named.

One theory is that the word Dubai is a combination of the Farsi words for two and brothers, the latter referring to Deira and Bur Dubai.

Others believe that ‘Dubai’ was so named by people who considered its souq a smaller version of a thriving market named ‘Daba’.

Another possibility is that the name came from a word meaning money - people from Dubai were commonly believed to have money because it was a prosperous trading centre.

It is worth mentioning that there is another town named Dubai in the Al Dahna' region of Saudi Arabia, between Riyadh and Ad Dammam.

Dubai in 1822
© Copyright Archive Editions 1990



In the 18th century, Dubai was a small fishing and trading village inhabited by members of the Bani Yas.

The Al Maktoum family settled in Dubai in 1833 when members of the Al Bu Falasah seceded from Abu Dhabi.

Dubai Creek

Although he was young, Sheikh Maktoum bin Buti ruled Dubai effectively and it grew into a flourishing coastal town. As the population grew, Dubai branched into three distinct areas: Deira was the largest and the main commercial centre. On the western bank, Bur Dubai and Shindagha were separated by a wide stretch of sand called Ghubaiba, which would flood during high tide. Shindagha, situated on a narrow strip of land separating the sea from the creek, was the smallest area and the main residential district. The ruling sheikhs traditionally lived here and the late Sheikh Saeed's house is still standing. Shindagha was probably the site of the original Bani Yas village.

Donkeys and camels provided transportation on land. Crossing the creek meant a long and arduous journey around the end of the creek or a ride in an abra, a small wooden boat that ferries passengers to this day. Abras were also used to transport people to ships.

The Souq

Deira's souq, the town's public market, was lined with narrow, covered passageways. With 350 shops of commodities from around the world, it was the largest market in the region.

‘Many of the craftsman in the suq had no shop, but worked on a vacant piece of ground as close as possible to their clients. They were known by name, and the cry would go round the suq, "Where is Hassan the mattress-maker?" until it reached him and he was able to make contact with the potential client. A mattress-maker's creation was vulnerable to visits from passers-by, who might stop to pray on it or simply to rest and chat.’1

Prior to the introduction of electricity in 1952, kerosene lamps or candles were used for lighting and charcoal, imported from the interior of Oman, was used for cooking and making coffee. Sweet water came from wells around Dubai. 2

The majority of the inhabitants lived in barastis, huts constructed from palm fronds. Extended families dwelled in compounds amid the compounds of relatives. Houses were constructed of gypsum from the salt marshes at the end of the creek and coral stone.

Traditional Architecture

The town's highest points were the windtowers of the coral stone houses, the watchtowers and Al Fahidi Fort. Windtowers were used for ventilation - a house would cool as water on the floor beneath the tower evaporated. Built in 1799, the Fort is Dubai's oldest surviving structure and it has served as the seat of government, the ruler's residence and as a jail.

With a thriving port and market, Dubai's residents enjoyed a higher standard of living than their neighbours in the region

1Dubai: An Arabian Album, Ronald Codrai, Motivate Publishing, Dubai, 1992, p. 56.
2 Ibid., p. 198.