Dubai // Bur Dubai //


Stretching between the Creek and Al Fahidi Street just east of the Dubai Museum is the beautiful old quarter of Bastakiya (or Bastakia, with the stress on the i), a photogenic huddle of traditional Gulf houses, capped with dozens of wind towers and arranged around a rabbit warren of tiny alleyways, built deliberately narrow in order to provide pedestrians with welcome shade.

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.

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