Cutting a salty swathe through the middle of the old city, the Creek (Al Khor in Arabic) lies physically and historically at the very heart of Dubai – a broad, serene stretch of water which is as essential a part of the city's fabric as the Thames is to London or the Seine to Paris. The Creek was the location of the earliest settlements in the area – first on the Bur Dubai side of the water, and subsequently in Deira – and also played a crucial role in the recent history of the city. One of the first acts of the visionary Sheikh Rashid – the so-called father of modern Dubai – on coming to power in 1958 was to have the Creek dredged and made navigable to larger shipping, thus diverting trade from the then far wealthier neighbouring emirate of Sharjah (whose own creek was allowed to silt up, with disastrous consequences). With its enhanced shipping facilities, Dubai quickly established itself as one of the Gulf’s most important commercial centres. Indeed in hindsight it’s possible to see Sheikh Rashid’s opening up of the Creek, just as much as the later discovery of oil, as the key factor in the city’s subsequent prosperity.
Recent years have seen the Creek once again take centre stage in Dubai’s ever-evolving urban masterplan. In 2008–10 it was extended from Ras al Khor to Business Bay, while the massive new Dubai Canal project will lengthen it further still, eventually taking it all the way back to the sea at Jumeirah and creating an enormous watery loop linking old and new parts of the city.
Although the Creek’s importance to local shipping has dwindled in recent decades following the opening of the enormous new docks at Port Rashid and the free-trade zone at Jebel Ali, it continues to see plenty of small-scale vessels, with innumerable old-fashioned wooden dhows moored up along the Deira side of the water at the Dhow Wharfage.