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Jewellery by Artists: From Picasso to Koons, an exhibition organised by the culture and art portal

Destinations · Asia · united arab emirates · Dubai · Essence ·


Author: Anothertravelguide.com0 COMMENTS


You may find two things hard to believe during your stay in Dubai: that the country is a mere 30 years old and that everything around it actually real and quite genuine. Although Dubai is real and populated by real people - some 1.6 million of them - it still has to it a certain feel of a giant gaming place that seems to attract a crowd of the most outlandish, wildest and most ambitious gamblers. Besides, there is something unreal about the place, particularly considering the fact that the air in the region contains just 80 % of the normal oxygen amount demanded by human physiology. The rate at which the metropolis is growing, however, seems to prove that 80 % is enough. Dubai is definitely the city to visit for contemporary architecture in its most extreme manifestations, from the world's tallest skyscraper, the silhouette of which is reminiscent of a nail driven into the sky, to the Egyptian pyramid-style Raffles Hotel and the "triumphal arch" of Dubai -the Dubai International Financial Centre ("the Gate") - not to mention the projects still in the making stages. The latter are usually qualified by attributes ending with the superlative suffix (the largest, the tallest, etc.). If there is one thing that comes naturally to this megalomaniac metropolis of the 21st century, it is mega-projects, strung like exotic beads one next to another. No area is left untouched: from the waters of the Persian Gulf to the desert. Waterfront, a city within city with an estimated population of 1.5 million, is being designed by Rem Koolhaas. The Bawadi entertainment district is also in the works; it is planned to house 51 hotels, including Asia Asia which will feature a record number of rooms/suites (6500) - thus robbing the recently opened monstrosity that is the Atlantis Hotel of its title of the world's largest hotel. However, not even this gaming place is immune from the latest developments in the world: for instance, the Hydropolis underwater hotel, originally scheduled to be unveiled in 2007, has not as yet opened its doors.
If there is still anything lacking in this emirate, it is a full-blown contemporary culture life - and even in this respect Dubai is catching up fast: there is a new library on the way, and the building ground of the new opera house/cultural centre designed by Zaha Hadid is already completely ready and waiting.
To enhance the bouquet of sensations, it helps to look up a few old pictures dating back a couple of decades on the internet: nothing but a handful of high-risers scattered in the desert. In 1958 there was just a single hotel in the whole Emirate of Dubai. In an even more distant past it was a small coastline village populated by fishermen and pearl-divers. In 1830 the Bani Yas Bedouin tribe lead by the Maktoum dynasty (their descendents are still the ruling family in Dubai) settled here after moving from the Liwa oasis. Life was hard and the average lifespan did not exceed 45 years - not least because of the harsh desert sun. Dubai used to be a place where merchant caravans stopped for a rest on their way from Iraq to Oman. By the late 1800s, it had grown into a strategically important port on the crossroads of Asia, Africa and the surrounding region, attracting merchants from Iran, India and the Persian Gulf countries. They sold everything, from spices to gold. The former merchant houses - perfectly renovated - can still be seen in the historic Bastakiya district of the city, declared part of the region's cultural heritage. Up to the 1940s, the economy of the region was mostly supported by pearl-fishing; the boom of Japanese cultivated pearl industry put an end to it, radically reducing the demand for natural pearls. 1966 saw the discovery of oil in the Emirate of Dubai. On 2 December 1971 leaders of six emirates - Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman and Umm al-Quwain - gathered to form the United Arab Emirates; in 1972 they were joined by the seventh emirate, Ras Al-Khaimah. While Abu Dhabi, the emirate richest in oil, was declared the capital of the country, Dubai positioned itself as the regional centre of commerce, finances and tourism. The birth of the new country coincided with a sharp rise in global oil prices, and, thanks to strategically sound investments in the development of industry and agriculture and policy of attracting foreign capital, the economy soon flourished. Sheikh Rashid, the late leader of the emirate, defined future independence from oil as one of the main objectives for the emerging metropolis, focusing on the development of the port and the airport. Today airplanes from 120 countries land at the Dubai International Airport, connecting the emirate with 205 destinations worldwide. In October 2008, the Terminal 3 of Dubai Airport was unveiled, increasing the estimated annual number of passengers from 36 million to 60 million. The terminal was designed specifically to suit the needs of Emirates Airline which recently placed the largest order in the aviation history, commisioning 58 new Airbus A380 airliners. A new airport - Al Maktoum International Airport - is also under construction in Dubai, scheduled to be completed in 2009. Capacity of passenger transportation is expected to increase by 120 - 150 million people a year. The new airport will be ten times the size of the existing Dubai International. According to the data provided by the Dubai Tourism Bureau, the city was visited by 6.5 million people in 2007.

The first ambitious projects were launched in Dubai as early as in the 1970s, starting with the 39-storey World Trade Centre - or perhaps even earlier: after all, Bait Al Wakeel, the first office building in Dubai was built in 1934, courtesy of late Sheikh Rashid. It is located on the waterfront of the Dubai Creek, not far from the water taxi (abra) stop - fully restored and currently home to the Maritime Museum. However, the real construction boom in Dubai started only in the 1990s. In 1997 the building of the National Bank was completed; see its curved glass "belly", inspired by the traditional merchant boat - dhow - reflected in the Creek waters. In 1999 the Burj Al Arab luxury hotel, nicknamed the Sail, opened its door; today it has already become a symbol of the city. Its concept was the brainchild of then leader of the Emirate of Dubai, currently the Minister of Defence Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. Burj Al Arab is located on an artificial island and, making the most of its status of a symbol, closed to the public. Unless you are actually staying at the hotel as a guest, the only possible way of gaining entrance is booking a table for dinner at one of the restaurants or bars. The pricelist, however, beggars belief - unless you really care to make a point of seeing with your own eyes the ultimate quintessence of Oriental kitsch complete with its 3000 plates of gold, do save your credit card for a more tasteful and slightly more reasonable extravagance.

In many ways the hotel with its self-awarded seven stars already belongs to the past: in the nearest future the status of the new symbol of Dubai will be taken over by Burj Dubai, the world's highest skyscraper. Today the main construction work on the dusty grey monster (when polished and clean, it will assume a silvery glitter, thanks to a thin coat of metal on the glass façade) is over, only the very spire of the tower remains to be completed; looking from the ground, it is reminiscent of a nail pricking the sky. The rate of the building work is said to be one storey a week. The 28 lowest floors will house an Armani Hotel. And yet Burj Dubai is only one part of the grand project by Emaar Properties: an artificial lake and the world's largest fountain (which promises to outshine the famous Las Vegas Bellagio, being 25 per cent bigger in size) will be created on the grounds of the hotel, not to forget the 3.5 km long Champs-Élysées-scale boulevard linking the separate districts of the complex (including a faux Old Town), complete with a special tram line. Only two hotels and the Dubai Mall - hailed as the world's grandest shopping centre - have been (recently) opened as yet.
Representatives of over 200 nationalities speaking 100 languages and dialects currently live and work in Dubai; natives make up only as little as 18 % of the population.
Like Las Vegas, Dubai is at its brightest at night; however, even in daytime - for instance, if you are watching from the terrace café of the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, the reflections of sunlight on the cars racing across the bridge in the distance and the backdrop of skyscrapers and high-risers make it feel a bit like a computer game. Besides, Dubai is unique in that whatever you see in the city is nothing to what is coming in the foreseeable future. Models of buildings-to-be are admired and photographed long before the actual constructions will see the daylight. There is one thing you should be aware of as you head for Dubai: it is one of the most expensive metropolises in the world, and you are guaranteed to pay through your nose for literally everything, from the hotel room to a glass of wine. And yet, that's the way the game goes if you want to satisfy your curiosity and see the whole shebang with your own eyes.
Just a single question nagging your mind as you contemplate the panorama of the surrounding landscape: how long will it still be possible?

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