Virtually in the shadow of the Emirates Towers, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is the city’s financial hub and home to myriad banks, investment companies and other enterprises, along with the flagship NASDAQ Dubai exchange. Opened in 2005, NASDAQ Dubai is a key element in the government’s attempts to exploit the city’s location midway between European and Asian financial markets and become the region’s leading financial trading centre – and, ultimately, a major player in global markets to rival the City of London, Wall Street and Tokyo, although progress so far has been slower than hoped for. The exchange is also a leader in the rapidly growing international market for sukuk, so-called “Islamic Bonds”, devised to be acceptable under Shariah law, which (in accordance with the Koran’s strictures against usury) forbids the charging of interest, stipulating that investors profit only from transactions based on the sale or purchase of actual assets.
The DIFC’s northern end is marked by The Gate, a striking building looking like a kind of postmodern Arc de Triomphe-cum-office block. The Gate is surrounded on three sides by further buildings linked by “The Balcony”, an attractive raised terrace lined with assorted cafés and shops. The entire pedestrianized complex is pleasantly sedate, almost collegiate, with sober expat financial types shuttling between meetings and a high-financial solemnity which feels more like London or Frankfurt than anywhere in the Gulf. Off on the east side of the complex lies a further cluster of buildings known as the Gate Village, now one of the focal points of Dubai’s burgeoning visual arts scene, with virtually every building occupied by assorted galleries, with a couple of top-end restaurants (see La Petite Maison and Zuma) thrown in for good measure.