There was a time, back in the early days when I first came to Dubai, when I was stationed in a large portacabin placed right in the heart of the tiny Bastakiya quarter in Dubai’s most loved old neighbourhood. During that time, I had the good fortune to wonder around the unrestored ruins of this 19th century settlement of the Bastak pearl and textile traders of Iran. I had a deep desire to be involved in the area’s restoration but I never pursued that dream instead chasing after the iconic National Bank of Dubai Headquarters building. Ultimately, the government did feel the need for the restoration of the area and today, its labyrinthine lanes are bustling with tourists and expats patronising the restored merchant’s houses, art galleries, cafés, and boutique hotels. Visiting Dubai and not stepping into The Bastakiya is simply unpardonable! It has an excellent atmosphere and affords one the opportunity to step into Dubai’s glorious past.
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding is housed in one of the Bastakiya’s most elegant buildings, with a beautiful courtyard, pretty decorative grilles, hanging oil lamps, and wooden lattice on the second floor. The terrace opens onto spectacular views of the Bastakiya wind towers. This traditional form of air-conditioning, constructed to funnel cool air into the house, was an architectural feature of buildings in southern Iran.
The Bastakiah Nights restaurant along the waterfront is another beautiful courtyard house. The traditionally decorated rooms and fine views of Dubai Creek from their rooftop is the main attraction to the restaurant.
Even the last remaining section of the Old City Wall, constructed in 1800 from gypsum and coral, has been intentionally preserved to give one the idea of the original wall which surrounded Bur Dubai, including the Al Fahidi fort and the old Grand Mosque.
The restored wind-tower houses offer Emirati, Iranian, and Middle Eastern art in several gorgeous galleries. Dubai’s oldest commercial art gallery, the Majlis Gallery has been situated here since the 1970s. Situated in another beautiful house, Majlis specializes in more mainstream art such as Asian oils and watercolors of desert landscapes, along with calligraphy and sculpture. The Basta Art Café is another splendidly restored courtyard house that is worth mentioning.

By Joseph C. Dias