Dubai - A pearl in the Desert

Dubai is a city of daring developments. It has been setting the benchmarks for all other tourist cities with its unprecedented architectural goals. Be it the tallest building in the world piercing the clouds at 828 meters or the largest indoor theme park spanning across the size of 28 football fields — there is something at every nook and corner in the city that will leave you impressed.

The real question remains — was Dubai always this glitzy, affluent, and fascinating? If not, how Dubai transformed from a barren land to a beautiful cosmopolitan city? Here is the intriguing history of Dubai — the journey of the richest emirate that is rooted in Islamic traditions with the most liberal rules in the region.

How Dubai became what it is today?

7000 BCE to 5th Century

During the expansion of the Sheikh Zayed Road between 1993 and 1998, the remnants of the swamp were uncovered. They were dated to be approximately 7000 BCE. It is unbelievable to imagine that Dubai and its brilliant infrastructure was a vast mangrove swamp years ago. Harking back to 3000BCE, Dubai was becoming inhabitable in its Bronze age. The swamp had dried up, the coastline had moved towards the sea and the area became wrapped in the sand. Nomadic cattle herders were the first to settle in the area. Gradually by 2500 BCE, the ground was fertile enough to cultivate a thriving date palm plantation. The nomads then successfully invested in agriculture.

Throughout history, camels were also an important source of transport and served as a status. One can understand its historic significance and connection by the fact that camel riding and racing remains to be a big part of the culture. Today, the best-seller activity of the desert safari in Dubai is the pleasant camel riding. With no significant details about the next couple of Millennium, it was concluded that the city was immersed into quiet farming and had links to Magan civilization.

6th Century to 7th Century

Somewhere in the late 5th and early 6th century, a caravan station was brought into action along the trade route linking Oman to what is now Iraq. The excavations are unearthed from the Jumeirah, the place that is flanked by beachside restaurants in the 21st century. In the 7th century, the Umayyads introduced Islam.

1000 to 1700s

While Abu Abdullah Al Bakri a famous historian and geographer recorded the earliest mention of the areas of Dubai in 1095, the Venetian Gasparo Balbi noted 'Dubai' in his journal of 1590 when he visited the place for its pearls. By 1000, the city had become enlightened by the idea of business. As the new trade routes unlocked, their livelihood got dependent on trading, fishing, and pearl diving. The area was bustling; it provided accommodation and sustenance for traders traveling across to sell gold, spices, and textiles. Today, you can stumble upon the souks which offer these items as souvenirs. In 1793, another turning point occurred when the Bani Yas Tribe settled in Abu Dhabi.


The Bani Yas Tribe is one of the highly regarded tribes of Southern Arabia, led by the Al Maktoum family (interestingly, who are the current rulers of the emirate). They rose in political power in the early 19th century. Until 1833, the Al Abu Falasa dynasty of the Bani Yas tribe established Dubai as a dependent of Abu Dhabi. It was during this dependency that the famous Al Fahidi Fort was built and the wall extended from Al Fahidi Historical District to the Fort. This explains that in the 1800s, Dubai was growing and developing as a walled city. Then, 1820 witnessed a “General Maritime Peace Treaty” between the British government and local rulers here which aimed to lawful trading and condemned the slave trade in Emirati history.

1833- 1894

A landmark year in the history of Dubai — Maktoum bin Butti led 800 members of the Bani Yas from Abu Dhabi to the Shindagha Peninsula at the opening of Dubai Creek. It was a natural harbor and the major center of trading. The Abras and boats glided along the waterways for export and import. Dubai was established as an independent region and transformed into a fishing village. This century observed a series of events where Dubai became the trading face for several countries, smallpox breakout, British signed another truce, and fire swept through Deira.


The Al Maktoum family continued ruling and Dubai’s business bloomed remarkably. In 1894, the business-savvy ruling family brought measures to reduced taxes for expatriates. This triggered a massive influx of foreign workers entering the city. To take advantage of such brilliant business opportunities, Indians and Pakistanis traversed the routes of Dubai. Although it was a successful period, they still relied on fishing, trading, and pearl diving. Due to which when Japan invented artificial pearls, Dubai’s economic vulnerability was attacked. Fortunately, this financial crunch was not long-lasting.

1966- Present

Everything changed in 1996 — Dubai discovered oil. It was a defining moment in the history of Dubai when the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum began the extraordinary development. He renovated the small cluster of communities near Dubai Creek to a modern port, the engine of the commercial hub. The majority of the revenue was squeezed from oil reserves. The upcoming years saw the evolution of Dubai and the formation of the United Arab Emirates in the 1970s. The city began to branch out, building up its top-notch tourism, real estate, and financial sectors. It was over the past two centuries that Dubai's population grew from thousand of inhabitants to millions. 40 years back, Bedouin villages were stretched on the lands of Dubai where high rises are constructed today. And this city still holds its essence of the past. Desert safari in Dubai offers stirring alchemy of adventure and culture. It gives a sneak peek into the Bedouin lifestyle.

With unparalleled leadership and futuristic vision, the city is one of the few cities that made a jaw-dropping change overnight.

Here are the milestone years in the history of New Dubai:

- 1971: Dubai International Airport opened.

- 1973: Dirham became the official currency in Dubai.

- 1979: Jebel Ali Port opened to smoothen the trading services.

- 1996: Dubai Shopping Festival launched. World’s richest horse race began.

- 1999: The world’s only 7-star hotel, Burj Al Arab was inaugurated.

- 2001: World’s largest artificial island, Palm Jumeirah was completed.

- 2009: Dubai Mall, the world’s largest mall was inaugurated.

- 2010: Burj Khalifa stood as the tallest freestanding structure.


From a small fishing village to home to the Palm Island that can be seen from the space, Dubai has experienced a remarkable transformation. It managed to not only survive but wake and thrive in the crisis. The best part is this city isn’t going to stop any soon. It has several ambitious projects planned which are sure to add another feather to its cap.

This article is contributed by our guest writer Neha Singh:

Neha is a travel blogger who enjoys traveling, meeting new people and learning about the local culture and food. She is always looking forward to visiting new places and likes to play tennis in her spare time.

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