Architectural Marvels of Al Shindagha Historic District

By Al Shindagha Museum

Explore the rich architectural heritage of Al Shindagha Historic District through this feature of its many traditional windows, doors, ornaments, watchtowers and mosques that have shaped the urban fabric of old Dubai.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Site OverviewAl Shindagha Museum

Al Shindagha Historic District is home to Al Shindagha Museum – an open-air museum that invites visitors to explore the unique architectural heritage of Dubai that has been preserved to reflect the manners in which communities traditionally grew, formed and materialized in the Emirate.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Site OverviewAl Shindagha Museum

The traditional architecture of Dubai, dating back to the late 19th century, was influenced by Islamic designs, vernacular applications, local materials, regional building practices, environmental conditions as well as religious and social customs.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Site OverviewAl Shindagha Museum

Later, the strongest available materials, coral stone from the sea, gypsum from the creek's salt marshes and wooden trunks imported from India, were used for the emirate's four common structures - watchtowers, mosques, Souqs (market place), and houses.

The architecture is characterized by its simplicity, functionality, durability and climatic suitability. Early structures were made of stone, palm leaves, and palm tree trunks, with mud substituting for mortar.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Coral StoneAl Shindagha Museum

Dried coral and beach stone were abundantly used as material for building traditional walls and structures in Dubai. Its porous nature contributed to the passive cooling and heating of the buildings, attracting and retaining heat during the day and releasing warmth at night.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Coral StoneAl Shindagha Museum

These stones, taken from nearby reefs, were left to dry to reduce their salt content, bedded and rendered with a traditional lime, sand and seashell paste known as Jus Bahar (mortar of the beach). While, lower parts of buildings were generally rendered with Sarooj, a mixed red clay and manure mortar, for its waterproofing properties.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional Alleyways (Sikka)Al Shindagha Museum

Traditional Alleyways (Sikka)

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional Alleyways (Sikka)Al Shindagha Museum

Buildings were traditionally erected close together to create shaded and breezy pedestrian walkways, resulting in primary, secondary and tertiary circulation routes.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional Alleyways (Sikka)Al Shindagha Museum

These narrow alleyways, known as Sikka, divide historic residential neighbourhoods at various widths, onto which the main and secondary dwelling doorways opened.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional Alleyways (Sikka)Al Shindagha Museum

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional Alleyways (Sikka)Al Shindagha Museum

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional Alleyways (Sikka)Al Shindagha Museum

Here are a variety of Sikkas in Al Shindagha Historic District that together create a meandering pattern of accessibility and well-ventilated passageways across the urban fabric.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional DoorsAl Shindagha Museum

Traditional Doors
Traditional doors were made from imported hardwood, mainly from India.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional DoorsAl Shindagha Museum

The main door to a traditional house is usually a double door, sometimes with a small door within one of the leaves, for privacy and everyday use.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional DoorsAl Shindagha Museum

Some front doors are simple two-leaf doors which are usually carved and feature a variety of metalwork studs, bolts, door knockers, and chains. By contrast, internal door hinges and locks are often wooden.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional DoorsAl Shindagha Museum

Larger double doors are opened for celebrations and expected guests, while shops and stores usually have folding doors with two or four leaves.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional DoorsAl Shindagha Museum

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional DoorsAl Shindagha Museum

A collection of traditional doors found across Al Shindagha Historic District, showcase the difference in size, design and functionality.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional Windtowers (Barjeel)Al Shindagha Museum

Traditional Wind Towers (Barjeel)

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional Windtowers (Barjeel)Al Shindagha Museum

Customary emphasis on privacy factored into the design of traditional courtyard houses in Dubai, many of which were connected to wind towers, known locally as Barjeel, for cooling in the summer months.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional Windtowers (Barjeel)Al Shindagha Museum

This structure placed on top of a building is a device of sustainability. It catches wind and draws it down the shaft into the space below, regulating air circulation and humidity, hence improving indoor thermal comfort through natural ventilation and passive cooling.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional Windtowers (Barjeel)Al Shindagha Museum

This short clip shows a variety of wind towers, ranging in height, size and grandeur, found in Al Shindagha Historic District. Each of these Barjeels, with their own set of intricate details and ornamental features, are designed to cope with direction changes of prevailing winds whether hot, dry, cool or humid.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional MosquesAl Shindagha Museum

Traditional Mosques

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional MosquesAl Shindagha Museum

Al Shindagha Historic District has undergone major restoration and rehabilitation works to revive and conserve the architectural heritage, urban makeup and local identity of the area.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional MosquesAl Shindagha Museum

More than 150 historic buildings were restored, including the district’s traditional mosques that preserved their original architectural details and are still in use today.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional MosquesAl Shindagha Museum

The most famous of which, is the Ibn Zayed Mosque – a modest structure overlooking the Dubai Creek.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional MosquesAl Shindagha Museum

As shown here, these mosques are usually small in scale, built from traditional materials, minimalistic in their designs and served different parts of the neighbourhood.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional OrnamentsAl Shindagha Museum

Traditional Ornaments

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional OrnamentsAl Shindagha Museum

Traditional ornaments adorn many monuments that depict the architectural heritage of Dubai.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional OrnamentsAl Shindagha Museum

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional OrnamentsAl Shindagha Museum

Made out of materials such as gypsum and wood, these traditional ornaments are placed across different features of the built environment on both the exterior and the interior, beautifying the spatial and urban fabric of the district.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional OrnamentsAl Shindagha Museum

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional OrnamentsAl Shindagha Museum

This clip shows the variety of floral and geometric patterns found in traditional ornaments, highlighting that they are not only used for their decorative and aesthetic value, but also to ventilate and shade spaces, as well as segregate some areas for privacy.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional WatchtowerAl Shindagha Museum


Traditional Watchtowers


Traditional watchtowers were common defensive structures across the historic districts in Dubai. They varied in form and height, having circular or  Square based plans.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional WatchtowerAl Shindagha Museum

Watchtowers were either stand-alone structures or part of a defensive fort. Guards were positioned at the highest point, to lookout for potential attacks and to protect the mainland city from intruders.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional WatchtowerAl Shindagha Museum

The ‘nose’ feature on this watchtower was used to pour boiling water on any intruders,

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional WatchtowerAl Shindagha Museum

while the many small angled openings were used to look out for intruders and to fire rifles through them.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Traditional WatchtowerAl Shindagha Museum

This watchtower located at the tip of Al Shindagha Historic District is known as Muraba’at Al Shindagha, taking its name from the square plan of the structure.

Al Shindagha Architectural Heritage - Site OverviewAl Shindagha Museum

These are some of the elements and materials that display the architectural heritage and marvels found in Al Shindagha Historic District.

A walkthrough in this traditional neighbourhood, getting lost between its narrow alleyways, exploring its hidden gems and discovering the history behind its manifestation is a must when planning a visit to Al Shindagha Museum!

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