The historic district of Al Bastakiya is what remains of the old Dubai of fishermen, traders and pearl hunters. It is located along the Creek, nestled in what is now the vital Bur Dubai district.
The construction of the Al Bastakiya district, also known as the Al Fahidi district, originated in the late 1800s; it comprised about 60 houses and most of them were divided by narrow streets.
In the 1980s, half of the neighbourhood was destroyed to make way for a new office complex, while the remaining houses were used as warehouses or rental flats for the labour force of the time. In 1989 it was decreed that these buildings should also be demolished, but British architect Rayner Otter, who renovated one of those houses to live in it, started a campaign to preserve the whole area, writing a letter directly to Prince Charles who was to visit Dubai that same year.
Upon his arrival, the Prince visited the Al Bastakiya neighbourhood with Otter, finding it very interesting and asking the local authorities to prevent its demolition. The advice was accepted, and in 2005 the Dubai government decided to start renovating the district to bring it back to its former glory and revive it, leaving it as a heritage site for residents and tourists.
The neighbourhood is small but very quaint: the streets are very narrow and winding and the atmosphere of the old days is still present. The roofs of the houses have a particular architecture known as yew (or wind towers, barjeel in Arabic), used to provide a kind of natural air conditioning by channelling the wind inside the rooms and gardens to cool all the rooms in the house.
Of course, today no one lives in Al Bastakiya anymore, but the old houses have been converted into shops, cafes and art galleries.
One of the most interesting sights in Al Bastakiya is Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest building in Dubai. Built in the late 1700s as a noble residence, it later became a military garrison and finally a prison. Today it is a museum housing archaeological finds from the period and numerous photos showing the sudden architectural change this area has undergone in recent years.
Not to be missed is a visit to the souk, the noisy and colourful open-air market, where smells, tastes and colours stimulate all five senses: more than 50 stalls are set up every morning and dismantled every evening, and you can find everything from jewellery to typical foods, from clothes to furnishings.
The cultural department of Dubai’s municipality has put a lot of emphasis on this area as a reminder and testimony to thepast existence of a city resolutely projected into the future.
The XVA Gallery is one of the most famous and important art galleries not only in Dubai but also in the entire Middle East, specialising in contemporary art from the Arab world, Iran and the Indian subcontinent.
Numerous exhibitions are held at the gallery, focusing on the work of the best artists in the area as well as emerging personalities on the scene. The gallery’s artists express their diverse cultural identities and unique perspectives, challenging visitors to abandon prejudices and boundaries.
XVA Gallery showcases artworks in permanent and temporary exhibitions, but also collaborates with international galleries and participates in art fairs around the world, such as Art London, SH Contemporary and Art Basel Hong Kong, to showcase Middle Eastern art to visitors from other continents.
In this historic area stands theXVA Art Hotel, the former home of the Seddiqi family, who traded and sold Rolex watches in the city, now converted into a boutique hotel by Mona Hauser together with her team of artists and designers. The hotel has 10 uniquely decorated rooms, three wind towers and two inner courtyards.
The hotel is complemented by its restaurant, the XVA Café, known by many as “Dubai’s best kept secret”, an award-winning restaurant that is well known in the city among gourmets, serving vegetarian food such as salads, soups and desserts.
In Arabic, the word ‘majlis‘ means ‘meeting point’ or something similar. The Majlis Gallery, known in the city by its English name Majlis Gallery, is located in the historical quarter of Al Fahidi and was founded in 1989 to be just that: a meeting point for artists and art lovers, where they can find a common place to do what they love best.
The aim of the Majlis Gallery since its creation has been to promote the work of both local and international artists and to become a meeting point for creative minds. Over the years, the gallery has evolved to become one of Dubai’s leading art galleries, a true haven for artists and art lovers.
During its years of existence, Majlis Gallery has more than fulfilled its purpose, hosting numerous solo and group exhibitions and introducing many of the region’s artists to the world of art and culture.
The Majlis Gallery is the result of the love between a lady working in Dubai and a very special house: Alison Collins arrived in Dubai back in 1976 to work as an interior designer, and instantly fell in love with the city, despite the fact that it was quite different from the one we can admire today, especially the architecture and ambience of the Bastakiya neighbourhood with its houses and wind towers.
The historical quarter of Al Fahidi, or Bastakiya as it is known, is located near the Creek, Bur Dubai side, and to get there you can either use the green metro line, getting off at Al Fahidi Fort, or the red line, getting off at stop number 19 Bur Juman, but once you get off you have to walk a bit, better to be accompanied by a taxi.
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