What do you remember about old Dubai?
This is the simple question we posed to residents who have been here since the ’70s and ’80s. And we’re not talking about the current Deira and Karama versus ‘New Dubai’s’ JBR and Palm. We mean the real old Dubai – the desert village that existed before skyscrapers (the first appeared in 1978), before motorways (Sheikh Zayed Road came about in 1993) – before the hundreds of luxury hotels (the Metropolitan opened in 1978). When the population was 183,000 and you could meet royalty for a coffee. We bring you five historical images alongside shots we’ve retaken from the same spot 40 years later – combined with, in true Bedouin style, snatches of Dubai’s oral history, from the few who still carry Dubai’s so very different past in their memories today.

Why ‘Dubai’?
There are several concepts about how this emirate came to be called ‘Dubai’. One is that it combines two Farsi words for ‘two’ and ‘brothers’, the latter referring to Deira and Bur Dubai. Others believe that it is linked to the word ‘Daba’, which means ‘small thriving market’. But the best of all is that it came from a word that means ‘money’ – because people from Dubai were perceived as relatively rich due to its affluent trading status. (www.sheikhmohammed.co.ae)

Deira Clock Tower
Dubai’s Clock Tower was built in Deira in 1963 to celebrate the country’s first oil exports. It was built near Maktoum Bridge – the first permanent bridge over the creek. In 1989 it was reconstructed, although its clockfaces have only ever been replaced once. The ’90s are considered the decade when Dubai’s architecture grew up: buildings were designed with a nod to local heritage and culture.

World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road

Started in 1974 and completed in 1979, the Trade Centre Tower was the first skyscraper to grace Sheikh Zayed Road. The 39-storey, 149m tall Tower features on a Dhs100 note, and will be undergo major redevelopment, expanding its exhibition space by the end of 2011.

Dubai Marina
This shot was taken from Bar 44 in Grosvenor House hotel, which opened in the same year, owned by HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of the Emirates group. The hotel was named after the original hotel of the same name in Mayfair, London.

Jumeirah Grand Mosque (late ’70s early ’80s)

Jumeirah’s arresting Grand mosque is the only mosque open to non-Muslims in the UAE for visits, with as many as 450 people attending on a busy day. It is said to be built in the medieval ‘Fatimid’ tradition and construction on it started in 1976. Check out www.cultures.ae for more.

Outside the Hilton, where Jumeirah Beach Residence now stands

Hilton Dubai Jumeirah opened in October 2000; itself still not an old hotel. In the year this shot was taken, work on Jumeirah Beach Residence, the largest single-phase residential community development began. It was completed in 2007, and today can accommodate 10,000 people.

Vital Statistics
The Persian Gulf War in 1990-91 had many effects on the city. The UAE forces joined the allies against Iraq, after the invasion of Kuwait. Over the next decade, many foreign traders moved their business to Dubai, rather than Kuwait or Bahrain.

Oil was discovered in Dubai the same year it established its new currency along with Qatar: 1955.

The first concrete building was built in 1956.

Dubai International Airport was inaugurated in 1960.

Dubai’s population numbers 674,000.

HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the UAE Prime Minister and Vice-President, and Ruler of Dubai, becomes heir apparent to the throne.

Dubai launched its Dubai International Financial Exchange (DIFX) and opened it as DIFC in 2005.

Work on Dubai Metro also began.

Dubai put a 15 per cent cap on rental increases as other living expenses doubled in 2005. Dubai’s population numbered about 1.5 million.

Ski Dubai opens, the world’s third largest indoor ski slope, measuring 400 metres and using 6,000 tonnes of snow.

Dubai’s population was 58,971 in 1968, 183,000 in 1975 and 370,800 in 1985.

In 1979 it was decided that Abu Dhabi would take control of the rest of the UAE, and Dubai would rule many of its own affairs, in particular those related to trade.

During the 1970s, many road, drainage, housing and commercial building projects began.

HH Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum rules Dubai from 1958 to 1990.

In 2000, the first Starbucks opens in Dubai.

Over 4.7 million tourists visit Dubai in 2002.

Chicago Beach Village, built for the city’s oil workers, is demolished in 2002. The Madinat Jumeirah replaces it later on.

Construction of the Palm Jumeirah begins in 2001, residents begin to move in by 2006.

Dubai gone by
Long-term residents’ memories
"My sister and I used to think the old arcade in Safa Park was the best place in the world in 1995-96. So we were absolutely beside ourselves when Deira City Centre opened and introduced us to Magic Planet for the first time."
Holly Sands, Music and Nightlife editor

"We arrived in Dubai in February 1975 and lived in apartments in Bur Dubai before moving to the ‘expat’ suburb of Umm Suqeim. We left in January 1980. Our first house telephone was installed in November 1979, after four and a half years without one. Our first air-conditioned car arrived in March 1979 replacing the open-topped, no-doors Suzuki Jeep with black plastic seats. Wall-mounted a/c units were installed in our first apartment on May 1 1975, three months after we arrived.

In 1979 you could navigate anywhere in Dubai using the landmarks of the Trade Centre and the Dry Dock cranes, which could be seen for miles. We used to drink sweet water from wells. Almost everyone suffered with one tummy upset but had no problems after that. My most vivid memories? Water skiing at Khor Fakhan, towed by a jeep driven along the beach. And the thousands of Bedouin and Emiratis who came and camped between Diyafah Street and Port Rashid for the week-long celebrations of HH Sheikh Mohammed [Bin Rashid Al Maktoum]’s wedding in 1979."
Rab Brown (our editor’s dad)

"In 1978 the (current) pharmacy on the corner of Al Wasl and the road to Defence Roundabout (originally Albert Abela Hypermarket) was the effective ‘end of town’. In 1980 we moved out to an isolated compound near the Offshore Sailing Club, with friends quizzing us as to why we had gone to the ‘boonies’[the middle of nowhere]. However, one could drive onto Al Wasl with any need to look for cars, and you could do U-turns on Sheikh Zayed Road whenever. People went from Jumeirah to Al Nasr Square (Deira) for shopping and entertainment.

The only mall was Al Ghurair, which appeared some years later. English movies were at the Rex (a drive-in near the airport, where they stuck a portable a/c in the rear window so that the windscreen would keep misting up). Parking was never an issue, you could get a brew at the little Chinese restaurant on the corner, haircuts were Dhs10 with a free Pepsi (no Coke in those days), and South Africans were banned! In 1978-9, people queued at the Beach Road Choithrams to get ‘fresh’ milk flown in by British Airways once a week. But it was normally off after the second day! Everywhere else used UHT. A year or so later, poor old Unikai kicked in with ‘reconstituted’ milk, posing as ‘fresh’ though made from powder, only to be usurped by the entry of the first dairy farms in the region. Life was less harsh after that! "
Dave Torbet

"Being born in Dubai was unique – now lots of kids are born here! One of the first houses I lived in, from 1978, is now somewhere underneath one of the holes on the Al Badia golf course.There was a time when we could drive off the Beach Road onto Jumeirah Beach and have a barbecue. We did it every Friday. The police used to drive up and down the beach. As a kid we’d wave at them – along with the helicopters that went up and down too. I used to ride horses along Jumeirah Beach. Safa Park was the edge of Dubai. The houses we lived in next to Safa Park in 1988 were only bulldozed a year or two ago. The expat community was so small we all knew each other."
Annisa Loadwick