Timeframe: how Dubai Creek has (and hasn't) changed in 55 years

The waterway has been transformed but is also somehow the same as ever

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As Dubai has transformed beyond recognition in the past few decades, its Creek has been a mainstay of this current of change.

The waterway is the home of a well-travelled trade network that has, since the early 19th century, been kept alive by hawkers, businessmen and artisans. It is where you'll find traditional dhows, still to this day ploughing up and down alongside abras, or water taxis, and speedboats filled with tourists looking for a glimpse of old Dubai from a new perspective.

The view from the Creek has, in many ways, changed irreversibly, and yet, at the same time, not much has shifted at all — as you can see from this Getty Images photo taken in May 1967, when compared with The National's image in May 2022.

Buildings have sprung up all around, as has an entire nation — the UAE was formed four years later, in 1971 — and a blossoming city that continues to transform today.

Yet the Creek's foundations run deep, its significance unquestioned in the face of enormous upheaval.

Back in the 1950s, Dubai life centred around it. Back then, Dubai was merely a town, with a population of about 20,000, with people living around Bur Dubai, Deira and Shindagha.

Vessels ploughed the Silk Route, trading goods such as wood and spices with East Africa and India, while pearling fleets left and returned from the spot during the diving season.

Around the middle of that decade, the decision was made to dredge Dubai Creek, an unprecedented and complex job that gives new meaning to the now regularly used term “mega-project”.

A build-up of silt was preventing larger ships from entering the waterway, and in a place that was then relying on its maritime trade for economic success, it was advised, among other things, that a 60-metre wide, 914m-long channel be cut from the bed in the Creek to the sea.

Work started in 1959, and was more or less finished by the early 1960s. As more ships arrived, new neighbourhoods and districts were established and life began to branch out from the Creek.

The year 1967 — when the above photo was taken — wasn't particularly remarkable in the history of Dubai when compared with other more significant dates. The population was about 59,000. In March, there was a smallpox outbreak. On May 1, the now-defunct Dubai Zoo opened.

But the tide was rapidly turning, as a town became a city, the population flourished and a simple creek became a passage to the world.

Updated: May 06, 2022, 6:01 PM
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