They say life starts at 40. Not so with the UAE. Since gaining independence from the British on December 2, 1971, a loose collective of nomadic tribes forged an alliance that triggered an unparalleled rise to prominence for a nation fuelled by oil and big ideas. Today, for all its purported excess (from huge man-made islands in the shape of palm trees to the world’s tallest building), it’s easy to forget that the UAE is not only a destination for unadulterated luxury and leisure, but a hub for trade and travel, a beacon of stability in an often turbulent region, and a vital bridge between Eastern and Western culture and customs. If there ever was a reason to celebrate a 40th anniversary, this is it.
This week we take a glimpse into Dubai’s past (when the city really was just a sandpit), talk to several generations of the same Emirati family about their experience of this young nation, and find out the best places to go to enjoy a sense of the UAE’s surprisingly rich history, as well as look at how it all started – thousands and thousands of years ago. Here’s to another 40 years.
The pictures above show the Deira Clock Tower, one of the city’s oldest landmarks, both now and 40 years ago. The focal point of Deira roundabout, the Clock Tower, was built by construction group Overseas AST in 1962 and still stands today. According to engineer Edgar Bublik of Overseas AST, HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Ali Bin Abdullah Al-Thani of Qatar gave Dubai ruler HH Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum a clock as a gift. Sheikh Rashid was unsure what to do with it, until Za’abeel Palace architect Ing Otto Bulard suggested incorporating it into a clock tower, which he designed. The tower was erected by a local builder, but in 1972 it was partially rebuilt because the beach sand used in the concrete had succumbed to Dubai’s harsh desert climate. The old Philips Building, located just behind the clock tower, is one of the few buildings still standing today. It is now the Embassy Suites.
Forty years on, the Marriott Executive Apartments Dubai Creek (built in 2001 and renovated in 2009) dominate the area. Fountains splash beneath the clock, Downtown Dubai twinkles in the distance, and traffic is much, much worse.
Fast facts on Dubai, click here
Meet the Al Serkals, click here
Spot 40 in Dubai, click here
A brief history of the UAE
The UAE has no history? Pah! We take a trip back in time to see how far this small, sandy nation has come over the past few thousand years.
Neolithic man settles in the Arabian Peninsula.
Domestication of the date plant boosts agriculture in the region and triggers the formation of agricultural villages.
The region adopts the South Arabian alphabet.
The Persian Empire falls.
Envoys arrive from the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), heralding the start of the Islamic era.
The earliest written mention of the area that is now Dubai is recorded by geographer Al-Bakri.
Regional sheikhs from the Trucial States sign the General Maritime Peace Treaty with the British.
The emergence of fake pearls and the Wall Street crash effectively kills off the local pearl industry.
Oil exploration rights in the region are granted to the Trucial Coast Oil Development Company.
Borderline disputes between Abu Dhabi and Dubai begin.
The dawn of the Oil Age – the black stuff is first discovered in Bab.
Oil is exported from the Trucial States for the first time. Cha-ching!
The late HH Sheikh Zayed Bin-Sultan Al Nahyan becomes ruler of Abu Dhabi. Oil is discovered in Dubai.
The Trucial States gain independence from Britain and the UAE is born.
The UAE backs the US and its allies in Operation Desert Storm (aka the Gulf War).
The first national elections are held in the UAE (a small number of selected individuals vote in half of the Federal National Council).
The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, is unveiled in the centre of Dubai.
The UAE turns 40. And you’re reading this.