For more than 3,800 years, the 146-metre Great Pyramid of Giza held the title of the tallest structure in the world.
It was eventually upstaged, in the 14th century, by England’s Lincoln Cathedral, whose wooden spire topped the pyramid by only 15 metres.
Seven centuries later, the title returned to the Middle East, with the completion of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in 2009 at an astonishing 829.8 metres, or nearly six times the height achieved by the ancient Egyptians.
It was modern construction methods that allowed for truly tall structures.
Armed with steel and concrete, they rose ever higher, from the Eiffel Tower in 1889 to the Empire State Building in New York and, far later, Burj Khalifa.
Even now, the builders and architects dream bigger. Saudi Arabia's Jeddah Tower is planned to be the first structure of more than a kilometre in height.
Since 2018 its construction has been on hold, stalled at a mere 252 metres after a dispute with the contractors. Dubai’s title is safe for a while longer.
Burj Khalifa is nearly 100 metres taller than the second-place Shanghai Tower, with China now taking half the places in the top 10 of the world’s loftiest structures.
Where once New York was seen as the capital of skyscrapers, now increasingly it is Dubai that stands tall. Seven of the 10 biggest buildings in the Mena region are in the emirate. All are taller than the Eiffel Tower.
Its ambitions date back to 1979, when Dubai World Trade Centre became the Arab world’s tallest building.
At 149 metres, it broke the old record for the Mena region, then still held by the Great Pyramid, by a mere three metres.
Here are the top 10 tallest buildings in the Middle East:
- Burj Khalifa, Dubai, 828 metres
- Makkah Royal Clock Tower, Makkah, 601 metres
- Marina 101, Dubai, 425 metres
- Princess Tower, Dubai, 413 metres
- Al Hamra Tower, Kuwait City, 412 metres
- 23 Marina, Dubai, 392 metres
- Burj Mohammed bin Rashid, Abu Dhabi, 381 metres
- Elite Residence, Dubai, 380 metres
- Address Boulevard, Dubai, 370 metres
- Almas Tower, Dubai, 360 metres
1. Burj Khalifa, Dubai
Height: 828 metres
The tallest building in the world when it was completed in 2010, Burj Khalifa actually took the title a year earlier when it surpassed Taiwan’s Taipei 101. It boasts several world records, including the building with the most floors (163), the world’s longest elevators at 504m, and the world's highest restaurant. It is so tall the sun sets three minutes later on the observation deck than on the ground.
2. Makkah Royal Clock Tower, Makkah
Height: 601 metres
Part of the Abraj Al Bayt complex, the tower over looks the Great Mosque of Makkah and the Kaaba and was completed in 2012. It includes the highest and tallest clock faces in the world – the minute hands alone are 23 metres long.
3. Marina 101, Dubai
Height: 425 metres
The second tallest building in Dubai is also the 27th tallest in the world. Construction began in 2006 and, although it was completed in 2017, the building remains unfinished and unoccupied due to financing issues.
4. Princess Tower, Dubai
Height: 413 metres
The tallest residential building in the world until it was overtaken by 432 Park Avenue in Manhattan five years ago, Princess Tower was opened in 2012 with 763 residential units. There are 107 storeys, including six underground, with an observation deck on the 97th floor.
5. Al Hamra Tower, Kuwait City
Height: 412 metres
Kuwait’s tallest building is marked by its curved sculpted concrete exterior, which is also the world’s tallest of its type. It was completed in 2011 with offices, a shopping mall and a rooftop restaurant.
6. 23 Marina, Dubai
Height: 392 metres
Briefly the world’s tallest residential tower, 23 Marina opened in 2012. It includes 57 swimming and plunge pools, with 62 high speed lifts, including one for each of the 23 four bedroom duplexes, and boasts views over Media City's lake and amphitheatre.
7. Burj Mohammed bin Rashid, Abu Dhabi
Height: 381 metres
Abu Dhabi makes it into the top 10, with a building named in honour of the Ruler of Dubai. Completed in 2013, the capital’s tallest building is part of the World Trade Centre which includes a mall and souq.
8. Elite Residence, Dubai
Height: 380 metres
Opened in 2012, at an estimated cost of Dh1bn, the 91 floors have nearly 700 flats with views over Palm Jumeirah. It boasts a distinctive design and is recognisable on the marina skyline.
9. Address Boulevard, Dubai
Height: 370 metres
Opened in March 2017, Address Boulevard boasts sells itself as a "city lifestyle resort". Residents and guests do not need to step onto the balmy streets to access Dubai Mall, which is it connected to with an air conditioned bridge. Not to be confused with the 300 metre tall Address Downtown, which was built in a similar modernist Art Deco style and opened in 2008.
10. Almas Tower, Dubai
Height: 360 metres
Part of Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Almas tower was briefly the tallest in Dubai when it was topped out in 2008. It is the headquarters of Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, with high security vaults and safe deposits to protect clients' assets.
A version of this article was first published on October 2, 2020