More than any of the seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Dubai has captured the attention and imagination of people all over the world. For a desert kingdom, this is no easy feat to pull off, especially in this day and age. What a lot of people don't realize, however, is that there is a lot of cultural and historical substance to back up the city's bold confidence and reputation, and it goes a lot deeper than a well-funded public relations campaign. To discover the core of this remarkable emirate, visitors will have to go into the depths of what is known as Old Dubai.
What Is Old Dubai?
Old Dubai consists of several neighborhoods that make up the northern half of the city. In comparison to the hypermodern parts of the city that are known to the outside world, Old Dubai is surprisingly humble and unselfconscious. It is the site of the city's initial settlement, where fishermen, pearl divers, and merchants would travel by boat via the Dubai Creek. Today, the creek holds the same function and visitors can hop on an Abra -- a traditional wooden boat -- for less than a dollar to get from one side of the creek to the other.
A stroll through the neighborhoods of Old Dubai is like a journey into the distant past. The architecture is strongly influenced by Arabian, Persian, and Bedouin styles, complete with wind tower houses and narrow sand-colored alleyways. In many of the alleyways, visitors will find Arabian markets, where merchants from all over the Middle East sell exotic perfumes, jewelry, and hookahs. Deeper still, the food markets are replete with an array of spices and teas. Adventurous tourists might want to seek out local restaurants, where a classic meal might consist of karak chai, minty hookah, and camel steak. Most of all, however, visitors will want to see one of the largest gold trading hubs in the world.
The City Of Gold
According to Euronews, up to 40% of the world's gold passes through Dubai, and most of that gold makes its way through the various Souks (markets) along the Dubai Creek in Old Dubai, particularly, but not exclusively, in Deira. Deira is the heart of Dubai's, and the entire region's, gold industry. Here, gold is so ubiquitous that it is traded with the same nonchalance as any other product.
In these riparian markets of the City of Gold, the infinitely precious metal is mostly sold in the form of jewelry, however, as gold is the basis for most paper and digital currency, it is also sold in investable forms as bullions, bars, and coins. In fact, most products that could be made with gold can be found in Dubai, including elaborate dresses, furniture, life-size animal figures, cell phones, and much more. A stroll through the famous Gold Souk of Deira is a stroll into the past and the future. While it has an old-world charm, the ever-present crowd is immensely diverse. Mixed in with the locals, who are usually distinguishable by the way they dress, there are tourists from all over the world who are making the most of the unbeatable prices and choices of gold products. At the Gold Souk, it is not uncommon to see famous U.S.-based rappers being chauffeured around in black SUVs and perusing the vast selections of gold watches, gold chains, and gold rims.
Why Is Old Dubai The City Of Gold?
There are three main reasons why Old Dubai is the City of Gold.
Being coastal as well as riparian -- while also being on the Gulf Sea, which is relatively protected from maritime piracy -- makes Old Dubai a remarkably convenient place for high-value and high-volume trade to flourish. The city is also protected by vast deserts in the south, which, like the sea in the north, insulate the city from potential invasion.
All the gold sold in the City of Gold is tax-free (naturally). It's easy to take for granted just how much money is siphoned off by taxes in most developed nations. For comparison, in the United States, gold is taxed at a rate of up to 28%.
Safety And Security
It is interesting to note that there are no visible security measures in place to protect the gold. There are few places on earth where there could be such an immense concentration of gold in one physical market without requiring bulletproof windows, state-of-the-art security systems, and heavily armed guards. In Old Dubai, the lack of these modern precautionary measures is reminiscent of some lost time in history when people were more afraid of wild beasts than of each other. After all, trade cannot happen unless the government can enforce the sanctity of fair trade and transactions, and Deira's Gold Souk is the highest testament to the city's achievement in securing and safeguarding commerce.
These reasons, in addition to the concentration of gold and the airiness with which it is sold, form the basis for Old Dubai being the City of Gold. It also seems fitting that the title "City of Gold", if not found at the bottom of the lake or in the hollow earth, ought to belong to a desert civilization in the heart of Arabia, where in ancient times only the most adventurous and charming explorers could visit and live to tell the tale -- the tale of a sandy utopia nestled in the dunes where the people possess a particular penchant for gold, hospitality, and globally conscious fraternity.