Standing tall: How Dubai became a metropolis

by Kim on August 20, 2014

Dubai is one of the world’s most famous metropolises, known for its landmarks and skyline, which currently includes the tallest man-made structure on the planet. Today, the number of residents stands at more than two million people: just 30 years ago its population had not even reached the 500,000 mark.

Although it was serving as an important regional port by the early 20th century, Dubai’s recent transformation has been rapid. So how exactly did a small settlement in the middle of the Arabian Desert emerge as a global city, with loads of people catching flights to Dubai to make it one of the main tourism, transport and cultural hubs of the entire Middle East?


Where it all began

Human settlements in the area now known as Dubai date back as far as 3,000 BC, but the formation of a built-up city is an extremely recent development. Prior to the 1960s, Dubai remained a relatively small-scale civilization, built on fishing and pearl diving for centuries and sustained by re-exports in the early 20th century.

However, in 1966, the discovery of oil in Dubai marked a turning point in its history. A few years later, in 1969, the first shipment of oil away from Dubai took place and the export of its natural resources soon triggered a huge upturn in the economy. The economic boom, coupled with the formation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971, kickstarted a period of major development.


How it changed

Over the decades that followed, Dubai expanded rapidly. After a brief economic downturn during the Persian Gulf War, Dubai bounced back in the mid-1990s and many foreign trading businesses relocated to the city, lured by tax incentives. Combined with the rising global oil prices, which meant that its primary export brought in even more money than before, Dubai gained significant financial resources to expand further.

This led to a number of high-profile building projects, including the creation of the artificial Palm Islands, the towering Burj Al Arab hotel and Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest man-made structure. These projects have all boosted tourism, which is now a major driving force behind Dubai’s economy.


Dubai Today

In the present day, Dubai is a multicultural society, with around 90 per cent of its population being made up of ex-pats. Furthermore, it has emerged as a worldwide business hub, helped in part by further tax incentives introduced in the wake of the recent global recession.

Modern Dubai is also a major travel hub and an extremely popular tourist destination, visited by millions of people every year. Current projections suggest it will attract as many as 15 million tourists a year by 2015.

Along with its iconic landmarks, like Burj Khalifa, and modern attractions, such as the Wild Wadi Water Theme Park, Dubai is well known as the “shopping capital of the Middle East”. In fact, shopping is believed to be the number one attraction for most tourists and the city is home to Dubai Mall, the largest shopping center on the planet.

That’s how Dubai transformed into a metropolis. Why not take a trip over and witness the city as it thrives.

Images by stevebrownd50, Michael Theis and Stew Dean used under creative commons license.