Timeframe: 18 years of DIFC, a symbol of Dubai's ability to bring dreams to life

The international financial free zone in Dubai has become one of the world's most advanced financial centres, home to restaurants, galleries and businesses alike

Dubai - July 8, 2008. A man looks at the gate of the Dubai International Centre (DIFC). ( Philip Cheung / The National ) EDITORS NOTE: POSSIBLE OASIS *** Local Caption ***  PC0010-dubai2.jpgPC0010-dubai2_2.jpgbz25se-DIFC.jpg
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On September 18, 2004, Dubai’s international financial free zone, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), opened for the first time.

The next year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said: "Dubai and the UAE have moved into the more sophisticated world of high finance. And I am pleased to learn that in only one year of operation, the Dubai International Financial Centre has surpassed all expectations."

He also said: “We are a living proof that when human beings have the courage and commitment to transform a dream into reality — there is nothing that can stop them."

In its first year, DIFC had hoped to attract 15 companies, but instead managed to bring in more than 100. It has since attracted more than 4,000 companies, growing into the largest financial centre in the Middle East and Africa, and the 19th biggest in the world, according to the Global Financial Centres Index ranking published last year.

Today, DIFC is the world’s best-performing free zone in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) projects in the financial services. Last year, a report from the Dubai Investment Development Agency said that its success helped propel Dubai to the top international spot for attracting FDI — performing better than other major hubs such as London, Singapore, New York and Paris.

Looking ahead, DIFC is setting up the world’s first global centre for ultra-wealthy and family businesses, in a bid to double its contribution to Dubai’s economy by 2030. The centre is expected to bring family businesses and ultra-high net worth individuals — people with a net wealth of $30 million or more — to the emirate from other regional and global markets.

It has also called for financial centres around the world to become more green, digital, inclusive and collaborative by 2030.

But DIFC is more than simply a financial centre. Nestled within its striking architectural landmarks is a dynamic array of art galleries, five-star hotels, coffee shops, high-end boutiques and restaurants — centred on the downtown destination, Gate Village.

Earlier this year, DIFC transformed the area around the landmark Gate Building into a sculpture park, to commemorate the UAE's Golden Jubilee. The open-air gallery featured 50 sculptures, as well as paintings by established local and international artists.

As the centre continues to add to its allure with projects such as the sprawling Gate Avenue, DIFC looks set to continue propelling the growth of Dubai's economy, and cultural landscape, for years to come.

Scroll through more images of the DIFC sculpture park below

Updated: September 17, 2022, 9:22 AM