House of the Sheikh Who Once Ruled Dubai
“Put it back,” he calmly said.
It was a quiet early morning in Shindagha several years ago. The entire household was still asleep, even the guards were yet to awake. Sheikh Saeed crossed the courtyard of his home and caught a foreign craftsman—who worked for the family—in the act of stealing an expensive Persian rug from the majlis.
“Put it back,” Saeed advised the thief. “The guards will certainly catch you.” The man took the ruler’s advice, and continued his employment for many years as though nothing had happened.*
Born in 1878 Sheikh Saeed was an unimposing man, who began his rule in 1912, a time when the pearling industry was thriving and Dubai was establishing itself as the leading port in the Gulf.
The original house was built in 1896 by Sheikh Saeed’s father so he could observe shipping activity from the balconies. The original home was demolished and the current home rebuilt next to the original site. The restoration of the architectural elements of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum’s House includes the carved teak doors and windows, wooden lattice screens, and the balustrades of railings. (source)
The doors and passageways in this house were quite low and narrow. That’s my youngest sister, Sonia, in the picture above. She’s going to climb up the stairs to the ‘Summer Majlis’ of the house.
I try to imagine myself in the 19th century, in this very house. It’s a warm summer night after dinner; the women are busy tidying up and discussing the neighbor’s daughter’s upcoming wedding, while the men sat in the courtyard having coffee and smoking sheesha, discussing trade and politics. I imagine myself wanting to go upstairs to get some fresh air and enjoy the view of the Persian Gulf. But looking at the stairway in the picture above, I can NOT imagine climbing up all by myself in the dark! I have a very hyperactive imagination.
On the ground floor, a large meeting room (majlis), spacious living rooms, storerooms and kitchen open onto a central courtyard that was shielded from the hot desert winds by high perimeter walls. There are so many rooms that you could easily lost your way!
The house is now a museum. There is a rich history behind each door waiting to be discovered. Each door leads to a room that contains rare collection of early photographs, coins, stamps, instruments, and documents that record Dubai’s history.
The picture above shows a letter written by Sheikh Saeed himself.
Description of Dubai City in 1822 by J.N. Guy, Lieutenant Commanding the H.C. Ship Discovery, Britain (which I copied off an original document in the house):
“The inhabitants [of Dubai] are in number from one thousand to twelve hundred, and of the Beni Yass tribe. The district is under Sheik Saeed, who maintains a body of one hundred and fifty soldiers, or guard to the town. The inhabitants are supported by fishing, collecting sharks’ fins, and particularly by the pearl fishery. Ninety boats are sent from hence in the season, and the early returns amount to be between twenty and thirty thousand dollars. There are two or three small date groves, in which are contained the only fresh water wells in the place, at the back of the town otherwise the country is uncommonly barren.”
Once, this house boasted unparalleled panoramic views of the Persian Gulf, and the Dubai ruler could monitor the day’s shipbuilding progress; however the significant development along the shoreline in recent years has diminished the views.
Today we see this…
The significant development along the shoreline in recent years has diminished the views. I recommend this place if you enjoy and appreciate history and want to learn more about the old Dubai. Younger children (and most teenagers) will get bored.
Dhs. 2 per adult – Dhs. 1 per child.
Photography is generally allowed (obviously), except in the rooms where photographs are displayed (to protect copyrights).
Location & Timings:
Al Shindagha Area, facing end of Dubai Creek
Saturday-Thursday: 08:00-20:30 daily
Ramadan: Saturday-Thursday: 09:00-17:00
*WILSON, GRAEME, Father of Dubai, Media Prima, Dubai, 1999, p.41.