After settling down with a book and coffee while waiting for my first flight to Dubai, I started reading about the history of this UAE state. From the pages of my guidebook, I came to learn that 1799 marks the date of the town’s first record. Further on, it mentioned that its museum was established in the 70s. Doing the math and contemplating the fact that the Dubai Museum is almost as old as I am, I was quite intrigued to pay it a visit, what could a young museum possibly have to offer?
Al Fahidi Fort is presumed to be the town’s oldest edifice. Dating back to the 18th century, it was built and then decorated with corals and shells as a defensive fortification, only to be later transformed into a museum.
Upon entering the hall, visitors are greeted with some old maps as well as aerial shots of the area. Out in the fort’s courtyard are samples of abras, a traditional boat that is used as means of transportation to cross the famous Dubai Creek.
Delving into the fort’s underground floor, I stepped into the museum. The first room has a small, yet quite informative documentary on display. Though no commentary is present to compliment it, the music and footage-based film took me on a journey through the history of Dubai: from the heydays of pearl diving to today’s hi-tech cosmopolitan city.
Though there are a few halls displaying a limited number of artifacts that date back to the Bronze Age, the sections portraying the traditional life – pre-oil bonanza – did grab my attention. Wax figures of typical moments of life in Dubai were on display: a woman doing her daily household chores, elderly men sipping coffee, and an ironsmith making a new dagger.
Supplementing the display are videos of modern-day people doing the same thing in contemporary Dubai, creating a striking contrast yet mirroring life in Dubai today.
The most remarkable of all was the section dedicated to pearl diving. For centuries, fishermen in the area depended on pearl diving as a source of income. Dubai was so renowned for its pearls that the Venetian pearl merchant Gaspero Balbi paid the region a visit back in the 16th century. A boat display hangs suspended from the ceiling and a diver is illustrated as diving for pearls: innovative in its attempt to relay to visitors a sense of what it must have been like in those days.
And though Egypt and Emirates both share a rather limited wildlife, in no way comparable to Africa’s riches, the wildlife section was of considerable interest. With stuffed animals on display behind a glass mirror, each partition had a small screen to its front. Push the button you please and your favorite animal will be brought to light, a few seconds later a short footage will be on display, showing the species’ life in the wild.
As my visit came to an end, I couldn’t help but recall my latest visit to Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. Indeed both museums attract hordes of tourists, and, consequently, a considerable income that revives the country’s economy. While the Dubai Museum has a limited number of items, the tools and techniques utilized to showcase it are creative and interactive, to say the least. On the other hand, the Egyptian Museum has a plethora of ancient artifacts on display, even more in storage, but is there a single creative tool that has been used to highlight the displayed artifact or educate museum visitors?
Isn’t it about time to think outside the box?