When it comes to Dubai the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind is a vision of a futuristic city filled with skyscrapers and gravity defying architecture. While this image is definitely true, there’s another part of Dubai that often gets overlooked. Bastakiya is one of the oldest areas of Dubai, located in the Al Fahidi District its houses and buildings date back to the 1890’s. Bastakiya was originally inhabited by wealthy Iranian textile and pearl traders who settled in the area and today it has been turned into a historic oasis filled with museums, cafes and art galleries.
Bastakiya was originally quite larger than the area that is left today. In the 1980’s during a phase of rapid commercialization, much of the area was destroyed to make room for modern offices and apartment buildings. Interestingly enough, during the time the area was being demolished, a British architect who was friends with Britain’s Prince Charles wrote to him and asked him to intervene given the historic and architectural significance of the area. Prince Charles visited the area on his scheduled visit to Dubai later that year and at his request the remainder of the area was preserved.
Today Bastakiya is one of my favorite places to go when I need to experience a burst of history. Although Bastakiya is physically located in one of the busiest part of Dubai, when you walk through its tiny Levantine lanes draped with North African wall hangings it’s hard to tell which part of the Middle East you’re actually in. One of the reasons I love exploring Bastakiya is because of the many small shops which sell souvenirs you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the city. From vintage post cards to calligraphic wall hangings, this is the place to go if you’re looking to bring a meaningful and unique memento back home from your trip.
Once a year Bastakiya is transformed into a dreamlike display of art for the Sika Art Festival. Because of the uniqueness of the area, it was chosen by the Dubai Municipality to host the festival. During this time Bastakiya is submerged in art of all forms including murals, paintings, sculptures, displays, and performances. Artists from all around the Middle East are invited to display their work at this time. If you’re planning a trip to Dubai I would definitely recommend visiting when the festival is taking place, normally around March. While you’re in the area make sure to stop by either the Arabian Tea House or the quirky Make Art Café for a complete Bastakiya experience.
When you’re in the area make sure to walk a little farther towards the Creek where you’ll see rows and rows of abras or old fashioned fishing boats that will take you to the world famous Gold Souq for just AED1. You’ll be blown away that in a city as modern as Dubai such authentic and historic forms of transportation still exist. It will be a fun and welcomed changed from the sleek and sophisticated metros and buses. In the Gold Souq you’ll be blown away by the hundreds of shops dripping with 22 and 24 karat gold jewelry. The opulence of the gold in contrast with the rustic souq will be sure to leave a lasting impression. There’s truly no other place in the world like Dubai!