Tour Locations | Tales of the Past: Tracing Dubai’s origins in Deira
LOCATION 2 | Tales of the Past: Tracing Dubai’s origins in Deira
Riding the Abra Across Dubai Creek
Paris has the Seine, London has the River Thames, Cairo has the Nile - and Dubai has the Dubai Creek. This is our city’s iconic waterway, and it has played a part in our transformation.
Take in the sights and sounds here, as you cross the water - they’re a bit different to what you’ll encounter in the likes of say, Downtown Dubai, aren’t they? This was once the city's most vital trade hub and is still the beating heart of our city.
Dubai Creek, or Khor Dubai, divides the Emirate into two main areas: Deira and Bur Dubai. It was along this stretch of water that members of the Bani Yas tribe settled in the 1800s, led by Sheikh Maktoum bin Butti Al Maktoum, in an area that is called the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood today.
As Dubai progressed, the Creek became a minor port for the traditional sailing vessels called dhows, which came from as far away as India or East Africa. This area became a trade hub, and also helped establish Dubai’s successful pearling industry. Pearls from Dubai were known all over the world for their quality and beauty. We’ll dive deeper into this fascinating industry a bit later.
The Creek became even more important to Dubai in 1960 when it was dredged. The ruler at the time was the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, and he wanted to allow access by larger vessels, so the city could welcome more trade and merchandise.
Deira became the centre of Dubai’s spice trade, and the souks around the port and water stations flourished. It wasn’t long before it evolved into a fully established township with booming businesses.
Since then the Creek has extended deeper into Dubai. Most recently, in 2016, it came full circle with the opening of the Dubai Water Canal, a 3.2km waterway that connects the Creek back to the Arabian Gulf.
When the Dubai Water Canal was launched, Sheikh Mohammed said this:
“Today, the Creek comes full circle; still shaping the very soul of Dubai, now running freely through the veins of the city, keeping alive its vibrant heartbeat, linking the sea back to the sea.”
Now look at the scene around you. Aside from some of the more modern buildings, this area hasn’t changed much since the early days. The souks would have been bustling like they are today, with traders and clients alike going about their daily business. The abras would have been busy ferrying people across the water, just as they are right now.
You may spot some of the area's many notable landmarks that still pepper the banks of the Creek.
Back on the Bur Dubai side, which you've just left, you’ll see the historic buildings of Al Fahidi with their wind towers, and the large minarets of the Grand Mosque of Dubai.
You’ll find most of the more modern landmarks ahead of us, on the Deira side of the Creek. Let’s start with the two identical towers in the distance with glass fronts. They’re the Deira Twin Towers. Just past them is an ornate white tower with a structure that looks like a lotus flower on its roof. That’s the old Dubai Creek Tower.
There’s a new Dubai Creek Tower under construction. When it’s complete, it’ll replace the Burj Khalifa as the tallest building in the world.
As we get closer to Deira, you might catch the passing aroma of sweet-smelling spices coming from one of the nearby souks…or perhaps you’re just taking in the fresh sea air. Nonetheless, the trip across the Creek is a sensory overload, in the very best way.
After Dubai diversified its economy, trade came in other forms, including oil, so this area is no longer the commercial hub of the city. But when you disembark, you’ll see that it’s still a place teeming with activity. Even now, you’ll notice boats jostling for pride of place at docking stations, and both sides of the creek are lined with huge, multi-coloured dhows and ships. Some are from as far abroad as East Asia.
The Deira Old Souk Abra Station should be just ahead now. You’ll be arriving there shortly.