Dubai 1971-2017: a tale of two cities

With just three years to go before the UAE hosts Expo 2020 Dubai and celebrates its 50th anniversary as a nation, Vision showcases Dubai’s inspirational journey from fishing village to global city 

Poring over a grainy black and white photo from the 1980s of Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road, it’s hard to square the scene with what greets today’s visitors to the emirate.

Where once the sole landmarks were a uniform row of muted apartment blocks and a dusting of palm trees, today the emirate’s main artery gleams with steel and glass skyscrapers, including such icons as the world’s tallest tower, Burj Khalifa.

These wildly contrasting scenes neatly encapsulate Dubai’s journey from thriving fishing village to cosmopolitan hub – a global city that is today home to more than 200 nationalities.

A newly opened opera house built in the shape of a dhow (the traditional boat that sailed the waters of the Arabian Gulf), sleek metro stations, and an elegant marina – all show the extent of Dubai’s ambitious journey since the United Arab Emirates first joined as a nation in 1971.

Wander along to Dubai’s Deira neighbourhood, though, and the contrasts are less striking. Here in Dubai’s traditional commercial district, and one of its oldest neighbourhoods, traders still ply their wares in the muddle of souks. Goods on display on both banks of Dubai’s ‘beating heart’, Dubai Creek, range from textiles and trinkets to gold and spices.

In this selection of ‘then-and-now’ photographs, we show a city that seems to have packed centuries of progress into mere decades. 

Satwa 1
A view of Satwa district from the World Trade Centre in 1980 shows 2nd December Street – previously known as Al Diyafa Street – leading down to where Union House and the flagpole marking the birth of the UAE now standsImage: Gulf News

Satwa 2
Satwa had become a densely populated district by 2008

Deira Clock Tower 1
Erected as a symbol of Dubai in the 1960s, the iconic Deira Clock Tower roundabout, seen here in 1987Image: Gulf News

Deira Clock Tower 2
The landmark Deira Clock Tower roundabout today