UAE then and now: before Burj Khalifa, Deira's Clock Tower was the famed symbol of Dubai

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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 how much the country has changed.

Long before the Burj Khalifa or Burj Al Arab, the Clock Tower roundabout in Deira was the iconic symbol of Dubai.

Even today it remains an instantly recognisable landmark for anyone who has spent time in the city.

Its story is a classic “chicken or egg". In fact it was the clock that led to the building of the tower.

In the early 1960s, the daughter of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, Ruler of Dubai, was married to Sheikh Ahmad Al Thani, Ruler of Qatar.

Sheikh Ahmad reportedly later presented Sheikh Rashid with a large clock.

On the instructions of Sheikh Rashid, a concept for a tower to display the magnificent timepiece was commissioned from Otto Bulart, an Austrian architect who also designed Zabeel Palace and went on to build the Dubai Zoo in Jumeirah.

The task of actually designing and building the monument, though, fell to Zaki Al Homsi, a Syrian architect with Architecture Design Construction and who later took UAE citizenship. Al Homsi died in 2017.

The site in Deira was chosen, apparently because the Clock Tower would be one of the first things seen by visitors arriving both by ship in the Creek and at the, then new, international airport.

The Clock Tower, with its graceful, swooping Arabian arches, was built in just under a year and completed in 1965.

Four years later it was joined by the Flame Monument, lit in October 1969 by Sheikh Rashid to mark the start of oil production in Dubai.

That is far from the end of the story. By the early 1970s, repairs were needed to the concrete, which had begun to deteriorate because of corrosion caused by the saltiness of the beach sand used in its construction.

By 1982 it had deteriorated further and the structure was completely rebuilt, along with major refurbishment of the clock, said to be by Seiko.

With the rapid growth of traffic in Dubai, the tower was also moved several metres to accommodate a new underpass.

Finally in 2008, the original clock, which was said to have been manufactured in Manchester, was replaced by a model from Omega, whose name can be seen above the faces.

Despite this, at 56 years young, the Clock Tower monument remains a much loved connection between old and new Dubai, listed by the emirate’s Architectural Heritage Department as one of the city’s most significant cultural buildings.

Updated: July 28th 2021, 4:00 AM
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