Seven women. One SUV. Three destinations.
All members of the same book club, we were on a mission to check out Dubai’s Heritage House on the Deira side of Dubai Creek. We had just read the memoir At the Drop of a Veil, set in Saudi Arabia in the 1940s and 50s. We wondered if Dubai’s Heritage House was similar to one of the houses described in the book.
Also on our agenda was the school next door and lunch afterward.
Although most of us are familiar with the Bur Dubai side of the Creek, few of us had heard of Heritage House or the school next to it, both located on Al Ahmadiya Street.
And a surprise awaited.
Built around 1890, this restored house is one of the best examples of a traditional Emirati home. From 1910, it was owned by Sheikh Ahmad, the most famous pearl merchant in Dubai at the time. His name graces both Al Ahmadiya Street and Al Ahmadiya School. Like other traditional homes of the region, this one has a large courtyard.
The house changed hands over the years. In 1935, decorative motifs and other artistic elements were added. In 1994, restoration began, and Heritage House was opened as a museum in 2000. Below is one of the outdoor sitting areas off the courtyard.
As is the custom in the region, the home has carved wooden doors.
Like other UAE heritage sites, traditional Emirati scenes are re-created for visitors to imagine life before the oil boom. Below is the majlis, the most important room in the house and where guests are received.
Here is al-hijla, the bridal room.
The kitchen is a small room in the corner of the house, far from the living rooms to keep the cooking odors away. Here are the traditional cooking utensils.
This is the upper level of the house.
In the center of the house is an outdoor majlis area where we relaxed. This visit was perfectly slow-paced, and completely different from a visit to the Dubai Museum, where one must struggle against throngs of tourists. By this point we had forgotten about all about the house in the book we had read.
As we took in the morning, we were served Arabic coffee and an unexpected snack of black-eyed peas, and finally sweet tea—all complimentary.
Before we left, we stopped by the gift shop and admired the kitschy Arabic trinkets, which always make me smile.
Just as we were leaving, a busload of Polish tourists came pouring in; fortunately, we were onto our next destination, which for me, turned out to be the highlight of the day.
Al Ahmadiya School is also located on Al Ahmadiya Street. Built in 1912, it was the first school in Dubai and was in active operation as a school from 1912 until 1965. This school was attended by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the prime mover behind modern Dubai.
Today the school is a historical landmark. When we walked into the school, this is what we saw.
We passed through the archway and into the courtyard. We were all surprised by the simplicity and beauty of this historic school.
Some of us wondered why we had never heard of it before.
This school was calming and peaceful. I have never seen scalloped archways like this in Dubai, nor have I seen a school like this here. In my eyes, this school is a hidden gem in the city.
Off the courtyard are many little classrooms, each with a Quranic inscription above.
Afterward, we lunched at a Yemeni restaurant overlooking the abra boats on the Creek. As we reflected on our little excursion, we ate a traditional mandi meal of rice and lamb, as well as roasted fish and large rounds of fresh Yemeni-style bread.
Heritage House and Al Ahmadiya School are open daily 8:00am to 7:30pm, and Fridays 2:30pm to 7:30pm. Entrance is free.
What is your favorite historical or cultural sight in the UAE?