The first thing that strikes you as you fly into Dubai is the sand. Sand as far as the eye can see. The desert that surrounds this shiny city is vast, beautiful and persistently encroaching into the city with every opportunity it gets. One gets the feeling that given the chance, mother nature could reclaim Dubai on a whim if it wasn’t for the determination and vision of the people that have literally created an oasis in the desert.
Here is a fascinating video from NASA showing Dubai’s rapid growth in only 11 years.
But the most remarkable thing that struck me about the built environment in Dubai was not the shiny buildings (although they are very beautiful), it was all the water in the public spaces.
Dubai has no natural water supply that can sustain this city, and although it sits on the Arabian Gulf, it truly is a case of “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”.
“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink” Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1882-1834) in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798)
Our very knowledgeable tour guide, Xavier from 1001 Events, gave us a brief history of Dubai as we drove into the city, and recounted how Al Fahidi Fort, one of the oldest existing building in Dubai was built to protect and control one of the only fresh water wells in the city at the time.
Water is a precious commodity in this part of the world, and although the UAE is oil rich, it is water poor. So where does all the water come from? Another engineering marvel, desalination plants which convert seawater into 99% of Dubai’s potable water.
But my point is: Water is special here, it’s almost revered. And just like the Moorish rulers in Spain designed the gardens of the Alhambra in Granada with elaborate water features, pools, and fountains, so to have architects and designers in Dubai created public spaces where water is the main attraction.
In The Dubai Mall there are numerous water features and fountains, but the most striking was a giant aquarium right in the middle of the mall. Not only did I enjoy watching the sea life swimming past, but even more fascinating was watching the locals stand in front of this huge tank almost mesmerised by the aquatic scene. We walked through a glass tunnel in the tank, and it felt other worldly.
Step outside the mall and there is a massive artificial lake complete with boat rides and The Dubai Fountain. It’s the biggest of it’s kind in the world and every 30 minutes there is a choreographed sound and light show where dancing jets of water shoot up to 150m in the air. The power of the water shooting into the sky is spectacular and not to be missed. I loved the fountain!
The people that live here are acutely aware that they live in the middle of the Arabian Desert, the sand that surrounds the city reminds them of that every day. But for them water is more than just a daily necessity that can be taken for granted, it is meditative, entertaining, life giving and spirit lifting. I felt it too, and I’ll never look at another fountain or fish tank in the same way again.