The houses here were originally put up in the early 1900s by merchants from Bandar Lengeh and other ports just over the Gulf in southern Iran, who had been lured to Dubai by the promise of low taxes and free land, and who in turn helped transform the commercial fortunes of their host city; they named their new suburb Bastakiya after their ancestral home, the Iranian town of Bastak. At a time when virtually the entire population of Dubai was living in palm-thatch huts, the houses of Bastakiya were notably solid and sophisticated, with the added luxury of primitive air-conditioning provided by the wind towers which rise from virtually every rooftop in the district.
By the 1980s, Bastakiya had become increasingly run-down as the wealthy Iranian families who had previously lived here began to move out to more spacious houses in the new suburbs. Many of the old houses were turned into warehouses and the entire area was threatened by demolition, although in the end around two-thirds of the original quarter was rescued from the developers and meticulously restored to its former splendour. It now looks every bit as grand – and certainly a lot cleaner – than it ever did in the past. Unfortunately, despite the work that’s been put into the place, the whole quarter still feels rather moribund and under-used, only really coming to life during the vibrant Bastakiya Art Fair, during which a rabble of artists and assorted performers descend, transforming the normally somnolent streets into a riot of activity.Read More
Often described as the world’s oldest form of air-conditioning, the distinctive wind towers (barjeel) that top many old Dubai buildings (as well as numerous modern ones constructed in faux-Arabian style) provided an ingeniously simple way of countering the Gulf’s searing temperatures in a pre-electrical age. Rising around 6m above the rooftops on which they’re built, wind towers are open on all four sides and channel any available breezes down into the building via triangular flues; the largest and most highly decorated wind tower was traditionally placed over the bedroom, with smaller ones over other rooms. Of course, wind towers don’t produce the arctic blasts generated by modern air-conditioning, but stand next to one and you’ll notice a slight but significant drop in temperature – particularly welcome in summer, and doubtless a life-saver back in the city’s pre-air-con days.
Although the wind tower has become one of the iconic architectural symbols of Dubai and the UAE, it was actually introduced to the city by Iranian merchants who settled in the city in the early twentieth century. Many built houses in Bastakiya, whose collection of wind towers is the largest and finest in the city, with subtle variations in design from tower to tower, meaning that no two are ever exactly alike.