Timeframe: When Deira Clock Tower was Dubai's most recognisable structure

Even after all these years and further architectural triumphs, the humble structure keeps its distinct place in the city's visual identity

The clock tower’s position in Deira was selected because it was one of the busiest areas in Dubai in the 1960s. Wam
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The Deira Clock Tower was once the visual representation of Dubai.

This was before the World Trade Centre marked the beginning of the emirate’s southward expansion, away from the creek; before Burj Al Arab rose with the city’s booming reputation for luxury and hospitality; before Burj Khalifa loomed as Dubai’s symbol of a global business and tourist hub.

And yet, even after all these years and architectural triumphs, the humble clock tower remains distinct in its design and retains its significance – not merely as a landmark, but as a touchstone of Dubai's history and visual identity.

And it all began with the clock itself.

It came as a present in the 1960s to Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, Ruler of Dubai, from his son-in-law, Sheikh Ahmad Al Thani, Ruler of Qatar.

The clock’s magnificence inspired Sheikh Rashid to commission a tower to display the timepiece in public. Behind the design was Zaki Al Homsi, a Syrian with Architecture Design Construction and who was later granted UAE citizenship.

Dubai's historic Clock Tower roundabout gets a makeover

Dubai's historic Clock Tower roundabout gets a makeover

The clock tower’s position in Deira was selected because it was one of the busiest areas in the emirate at the time. It marked the first major road that connected Bur Dubai and Deira at Al Maktoum Bridge. It would also be one of the first attractions greeting visitors arriving by ship to the creek, as well as the international airport.

The clock tower was built within a year, being officially completed in 1965. With its curved arches and pinpoint top, the design had several elements inspired by classical Arab design and yet, with a minimalist touch, it also was decidedly modern. In many ways, the clock tower represented Dubai’s mission of honouring tradition while being cutting edge.

Unsurprisingly, the monument has undergone plenty of maintenance work since it was built. There were restorative repairs to its concrete. The tower’s construction utilised beach sand and its high salt content had begun to deteriorate in the early 1970s. In the following decade, its condition worsened and the clock tower had to be rebuilt. As the traffic flow in Dubai increased, the tower was moved several metres to make room for a new underpass. The clock face was also refurbished, reportedly by Seiko.

In 2008, the clock was replaced entirely by a model from Omega. The brand’s name can be seen in red at the top. The clock’s face is adorned with an eight-pointed star, which holds special significance in Islam, having connotations of balance and harmony. Arabic numbers representing the hours of the day are featured round a ring encircling the octagram.

The clock tower roundabout underwent a Dh10 million ($2.7 million) restoration last year. Dubai Municipality led the project with the aim of enlivening the structure. It included the addition of more greenery, modern lighting, painting work and an upgrade to the water fountain. The restoration initiative was aimed at "breathing new life into the iconic landmark", the municipality said.

The clock tower is one of Dubai’s first architectural feats and much like the city itself, is keeping up with modern technology. A smart sensor has been installed in the upgraded fountain, to allow for water jets to respond to changes in wind speed.

The clock tower's significance in the emirate's history was emphasised when Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, announced this month that the site would be part of a project aimed at preserving the city's heritage.

The second phase of the scheme will focus on the preservation of 35 areas, sites and buildings dating from the 1960s to the 1990s. As well as the clock tower, sites include Jumeirah Zoo, Rashid Tower, the Dubai Petroleum building, Terminal 1 at Dubai International Airport, Dubai Municipality's main building, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Palace - Za'abeel, the Dubai Land Department building and the Dubai Courts building.

"We have a responsibility to celebrate our history and protect our architectural treasures for future generations," Sheikh Hamdan said in a statement released by the Dubai Government Media Office.

"The heritage areas covered by the project hold the memory of decades of progress and symbolise the dawn of Dubai's renaissance. Located in the heart of modern Dubai, these sites bridge the past with the city's future aspirations."

Updated: May 17, 2024, 6:02 PM