Guide to Dubai's newly listed historical places, from a pineapple slide to a fish fountain

Nearly three dozen buildings and sites have been designated by the emirate for preservation

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Of the nearly three dozen historical buildings and sites selected for the second phase of Dubai’s heritage architecture preservation project, many will be familiar urban landmarks.

Others, however, may be less well-known and perhaps even seem surprising. All, though, are woven into the story of Dubai as it grew from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Diverse as they are, these buildings and sites together create, in the words of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, an “open museum of human heritage”.

Among the most obvious is the Clock Tower in Deira, built in 1965 after Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani of Qatar was said to have given a huge clock to his father in law, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, father of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

The famous clock tower and clock, which sits at the heart of a major intersection, was restored in the 1970s, 2008 and in 2023 underwent a Dh10 million renovation.

It was designed by Otto Bulart, an Austrian architect who was also responsible for two other buildings on the new list.

Building Dubai's history

Zabeel Palace was completely rebuilt from 1963 to 1965 as the main residence for Sheikh Rashid, who lived there until his death in 1990. When first constructed it was surrounded by open desert but it is now in the heart of the city, where visitors can tour its magnificent gardens.

The other building was once known as Dubai Zoo, now called Jumeirah Zoo after the opening of Dubai Safari. The old zoo closed in 2017 but the news that it has been scheduled for preservation suggests it will soon get a new lease of life, with details yet to be revealed.

The inclusion of Terminal 1 at Dubai International Airport is no surprise. It was the original terminal when the airport began operations in the early 1960s, indicating the city was open for business and to the world.

The same can be said of Sheikh Rashid Tower, more familiar as the central building of Dubai World Trade Centre. When it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1979, it was the tallest building in the Middle East.

Other buildings speak of the modernisation of Dubai. The futurist main Dubai Municipality building owes its distinct design to a Japanese firm, Pacific Consultants, and opened in 1979.

Dubai Land Department Building is more conventional in its architecture but the services it provides have been pivotal to the government’s successful real estate strategy as the city has undergone massive expansion.

Dubai Courts is a judicial system established by Sheikh Rashid in the late 1950s. The complex, on the banks of the creek, comprises three levels of courts, beginning with the civil court in 1970.

Towering achievements

The Dubai Petroleum headquarters has long been regarded as an architectural gem, designed by Victor Bisharat, the celebrated Arab-American architect, who was born in Palestine and also helped to build Disneyland in Anaheim, California. It opened in 1978 and was featured at the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale.

The Emirates Post building in Al Karama, formerly known as the General Post Office, was one of the country’s biggest buildings when it was constructed in the mid 1970s and was once the headquarters of Dubai's postal service.

Five of the city’s hospitals have been selected. Al Maktoum is the oldest in the country, founded in 1951, although building continued until 1971.

Al Baraha Hospital was opened on the Deira Corniche in 1966 in the presence of the then-Emir of Kuwait and was renamed Al Kuwait Hospital in 2019.

Rashid Hospital is the second oldest major hospital, built in 1973 near the creek and still expanding. Dubai Hospital, a 14-storey building in Deira built as a response to rapid population growth, admitted its first patient in 1983.

Originally called Al Wasl Hospital, Latifa Hospital specialises in care for women and children, first opening its doors in 1986. It was renamed in in honour of the mother of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

Dubai's mosques, culture and heritage

Five mosques also make the list. Visitors to Dubai, especially non-Muslims, will be familiar with the Jumeirah Mosque, which admits all faiths and opened in 1979. It is managed by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.

The mosque at Al Fahidi, also known as Bastakiya, is part of the historical neighbourhood by the creek in Bur Dubai, as is the Ruler’s Diwan, or meeting place.

Al Ras Public Library, also known as Dubai Public Library, is the city’s oldest, lending books since 1963 in Deira, overlooking the creek. It closed for renovation in 2019. Zabeel High School is one of the oldest government schools in Dubai, established in 1979 in Karama.

Naif Police Station in Deira was originally a fort and served as the headquarters for Dubai’s original law enforcement as far back as the 1950s. It was expanded and renovated in 1997, preserving the first structure, which is now a museum.

Monumental buildings

Equally arresting is the Flame Monument, first lit in 1969 to mark the beginning of oil production in the emirate. Originally part of the Clock Tower Roundabout, it has moved twice, and is currently situated at the edge of the airport in Al Khabaisi Park.

Only a few minutes away is another monument commemorating a time when Dubai was dependent on fishing and pearling. At the centre of Fish Roundabout is a stylised concrete fish fountain, believed to have been designed by Iranian artist Mir Ismaili.

Many may not realise that the giant mushroom-like structure on a 40-metre stalk in Satwa is actually a water tower dating from the 1980s. It is now the centrepiece of the small Al Khazzan Park and a local landmark.

At 63 hectares, Safa Park is much larger, now bisected by the Dubai Water Canal. Created in 1975, with further development in 1984 and 1992, it contains a number of original buildings, included The Archive art library, designed by the Dubai-based Japanese architect Takeshi Murayama.

Growing up in Dubai in the 1980s, every child would have known Al Nasr Leisureland, especially the fruit-themed rides that include a pineapple slide and banana swings. Opened in October 1979, the complex in Oud Metha is largely unchanged, with an ice rink, wave pool and bowling alley.

Two golf clubs are included. Emirates Golf Club, next to Emirates Hills, opened in 1988 and is the home of the Dubai Desert Classic. The clubhouse, by British architect Brian Johnson, resembles the lines of a traditional desert tent.

Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club dates from 1993. As well an 18-hole course, its most notable feature is the clubhouse, again designed by Mr Johnson, this time to reflect the sails of a dhow.

Finally there are two out-of-town destinations. Hatta, an exclave of Dubai bordering Oman, was accessible from the emirate only by desert tracks until a road was built in 1971.

The Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Palace was where Sheikh Rashid built a guesthouse and held his majlis and informal business meetings. Nearby is the Rashid bin Saeed Basic and Secondary School.

Updated: May 15, 2024, 12:55 PM