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Dubai is the capital of the emirate of Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. After achieving their independence from Great Britain in 1971, Dubai was officially born!
Dubai is larger than you might think, taking up an area of 4,114 square kilometers. That’s almost three times the size of London!
You might equate Dubai with artificial, air-conditioned, luxury living in the middle of the desert. You might think of the enormous sky-scrapers that dominate the city’s skyline, or of the man-made Palm Islands that involved using 94 million cubic meters of sand to build. Or you might not know too much about Dubai at all….
This young economic giant doesn’t have the longest of histories, but it does contain a whole lot of surprises! Are you ready to blow back through the sands of time and explore the history of this desert city?
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In the 18th century, the area around Dubai was documented as a small fishing village. Fishing wasn’t the only thing happening around here. The city quickly grew into a huge center for pearl-diving!
The ruling family of Dubai was as business-savvy back in the day as they are today! Even back then, they knew that keeping taxes low and inviting in foreign merchants was a bright idea. Dubai continued to explode in population and economic growth into the early 20th century!
Contrary to popular belief, Dubai’s economy isn’t actually oil-based. It did have a small oil boom in the 1960s and 1990s, but Dubai reinvested the profits in trade, investment, and infrastructure. Trade is the true core of their economy. Let’s not forget that in the 1980s they established the Jebel Ali free-trade zone which attracted all kinds of industrial companies!
Not really even a country, the Trucial States was a collection of sheikdoms that stretched for 83,000 square kilometers. Britain began attacking sea pirates to protect their trade routes along the Persian Gulf, which led to formal ties being established between Great Britain and the Trucial States in 1820.
The formal ties of 1820 were given in exchange for exclusivity, as well as quite a few bizarre requests that essentially made the Trucial States subservient to Britain for 150 years! They wanted to unite Bahrain, Qatar, and the Trucial states into a huge united federation all under the British flag.
Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. By 1971, Britain was unable to keep their hold on the Trucial States, nor their grip on Bahrain and Qatar. They couldn’t keep it up politically or financially anymore. The ruling emirs decided themselves to create a federation, a big and risky joint venture. Thus, the genesis of United Arab Emirates!
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With the thriving international business scene, educated foreign workers have moved to Dubai in droves. Nearly 85% of Dubai’s population is foreign expatriates! In fact, half of the entire population is comprised of individuals from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
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Due to the huge population of foreigners, Dubai has one of the most liberal societies in the region. Thankfully, the city demonstrates religious tolerance. Plenty of Christian churches and Hindu temples dwell near the many mosques of Dubai.
Dubai is often described as a melting pot and a cosmopolitan city, as the population is such a big mix of expatriates. With skyscrapers, beaches, and a high volume of tourists threading in and out of the streets, Dubai has been likened to either the Singapore and Hong Kong of the Middle East!
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The tallest building in the world is Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, clocking in at a towering 828 meters high. Building it cost a pretty penny. We’re talking 4 Billion US Dollars, people! For some extra fun, the Burj Khalifa also has the world’s highest mosque on the 158th floor and the world’s highest swimming pool on the 76th floor!
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Palm Island is an artificial island that is a true engineering feat! It took enough sand to construct that it could have filled the Empire State Building… twice! Upon completion, these palm-shaped islands will add a glorious 520 kilometers of beach to Dubai.
Dubai is proud to have the biggest and the bestest. That isn’t a word, but it should be when Dubai is concerned! Dubai has the largest shopping mall in the world which has over 1,200 shops and 160 restaurants. Dubai also has the largest indoor ski resort in the world, A huge expanse of 22,500 square meters and 5 ski slopes makes for a winter wonderland inside this desert city!
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Dubai is home to the world’s only 7-star hotel: The Burj Al Arab Jumeirah Hotel. It just wouldn’t be a 7-star hotel without an underwater restaurant, would it? Also, it is the 4th tallest hotel in the world, but 39% of it’s height cannot be occupied. Talk about wasted space!
The Burj Al Arab Jumeirah Hotel’s design emulates a billowing sail. The 320 meter high hotel is covered in a complex lighting system that at night is synchronized to resemble fire and water. Ooh la la!
The Burj Al Arab Jumeirah Hotel has only 202 bedroom suites, quite a small number for a hotel of this grandeur and size! However, they sure make up for it with their exorbitant prices. Rooms start at around $1,000 and can run up to $24,000 per night!
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Dubai Creek is the natural saltwater inlet that runs through Dubai. Along the creek are some of the oldest buildings in all of Dubai. Buildings from the 1960s. It’s easy to forget what a young city Dubai is!
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Dividing the city into two parts, Deira and Bur Dubai, the Dubai Creek has always played an important role in this city’s history. The first settlers in Dubai landed on the Bur Dubai area and formed the Al Maktoum dynasty. The port on the creek, which led into the Persian Gulf, was the center of transportation and trade. It’s also where all the pearl diving happened!
The Dubai Creek just wasn’t big enough, or deep enough, or developed enough for Dubai. In 1961 it was deepened to allow 7-foot vessels through. Then in the 1970s it was deepened again to allow anchorage to ships up to 500 tons. Then in 2007, after $132 million was spent, the 2.2km extension of the creek was completed!
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Construction began in 1959, with the airfield official opened in 1960. The first jet aircraft landed in 1965 after the first official asphalt runaway was built. No more sand runways. Can you imagine your airplane landing on sand? No, thank you!
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The Dubai International Airport is the world’s busiest airport with international passenger traffic and world’s third busiest with passenger traffic. Things just got busier because it is the world’s sixth busiest cargo airport too! Phew!
The airport expanded to add a second terminal in 1998 and that was just the beginning of the huge master plan! More taxiways were added and expanded in 2003 and 2004. Terminal 3 was finished in 2008, which increased the airport’s capacity to handle 75 million passengers per year! In 2017 the airport handled 88 million passengers. Things are always on the up and up in Dubai!
Want to go deeper? These great museums in Dubai are perfect for learning a little more.
Insider tip – Use our expert guide to see when the best time to visit Dubai is!
Who knew there were so many ridiculously big and busy things in Dubai?! Were any of these immense and incredible facts old news to you?
Maybe you had heard a thing or two before, but hopefully, we shed some light on some of the wild facts about the desert city of Dubai!
With a police force that drives Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Aston Martins, there are sure to be many curiosities about such a city!
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Lily Allen-Duenas is a wandering yoga instructor, massage therapist, and reiki healer. For the last two years she’s been journeying around the world, teaching yoga on island resorts in Cambodia, surf hostels in Sri Lanka, and wellness centers in the Phillipines. Lily loves building her life around her passions, health, wellness, and travel. You can follow her journey at wildyogatribe.com or get social with her @wildyogatribe