UAE then and now: when Bur Dubai had the city's only traffic lights

Fifty years on, Al Fahidi Street remains a bustling centre of commerce and humanity

Today, life in the Emirates moves in the fast lane. In a regular series to mark the 50th anniversary of the UAE we take a little trip back in time to see just how much the country has changed.

Half a century separates these two photographs of Bur Dubai, yet it is still recognisably the same place.

The view is looking down 34th Street towards Al Fahidi Street, then, as now, a bustling centre of commerce and humanity.

What is old in 2021 was new in 1971. There is the apartment block, since rebuilt, which is the central focus of the photo, but also something else, easily overlooked at first glance, now a part of everyday life.

These are traffic lights, the first in Dubai, despite the seeming absence of traffic back in the 1970s.

The photograph was taken by Len Chapman, who runs the Dubai As It Used To Be website.

Mr Chapman moved to Dubai with his young family in 1971, making their home at Al Owais building on Al Fahidi Street, one of the city’s earliest high-rise apartment blocks.

The traffic lights were switched off at midnight, he recalls, and became a source of irritation for drivers, who furiously honked horns if it was felt they stayed too long on red.

“When the traffic lights switched on at 6am, drivers started pressing their horn buttons. Apartment residents did not need alarm clocks.”

Mr Chapman has other memories of those days. On the ground floor of Al Owais building was V V & Sons, then the city’s go-to place for electrical and hi-fi goods. Founded in 1958, the company is still in business.

In the absence of supermarkets, shopping was at K M Brothers grocery (also still going strong), while bread was sold from the back of a van that arrived every evening.

The building on the corner on the right of the photo is another survivor from the 1970s, but pedestrians now walk on pavement rather than the sand sidewalks of those earlier years. On the left, the flag of Dubai can be seen hanging from a shop front.

Mr Chapman lived on Al Fahidi Street for only four months before moving to Jumeirah, but his stay in Dubai lasted more than 30 years. He now lives in Australia but keeps memories of those days alive through his website.

Updated: July 15th 2021, 4:00 AM