Saturday, May 27, 2006

Ancient air conditioning tactics

Did you know that perhaps the earliest forms of air conditioning evolved in the middle eastern deserts?

For years I had been asking those who lived there about the old Dubai, its history. But the standard reply was that Dubai is a modern trading country, which has left its history behind. It boasts of huge modern docks, tall buildings like the famous Burj and the World Trade Center and massive malls. In the midst of all these, history has been very carefully and beautifully preserved from as far back as 3000 B.C.

A visit to the Dubai museum is a must. Located bang in the middle of the Meena Bazaar, it is housed within the beautifully restored Al Fahidi Fort, which was erected around 1799 to defend the city against invasion. The fort is small by the standards of the massive forts we have in India, but the the space has been used effectively by taking the museum underground.

At the ground level are replicas of the houses of the olden days, complete with perhaps’s the world’s first form of air conditioning to keep out the desert heat. Wind towers rise high over the middle of the house, using jute fabric to filter out heat and dust and cool the insides.
The museum shows off Dubai’s rich cultural heritage colorful life size dioramas vividly depicting everyday life in the days before the discovery of oil. Small stalls recreate scenes from the Creek, traditional Arab houses, mosques, the souk, date farms and desert and marine life. One of the more spectacular exhibits portrays pearl diving, including sets of pearl merchants’ weights, scales and sheaves. Also on display are artifacts from several excavations in the emirate, recovered from graves that date back to the third millennium B.C.
The museum's realistic life-size static displays provide an insight into the traditional occupants of Dubai. Those have included dhow building, fishing, pearl diving and trade. Indeed, the export of fine pearls was a major factor in Dubai's rise to prominence as a trading centre. 


The Creek, lifeline of Dubai, provides safe harbor to mercantile and fishing vessels, since Time Immemorial. The museum offers a splendid audio-visual diorama depicting the old charm and bustle of commercial life along the banks of this fabled waterway, soaking in the atmosphere of a souk in the 1950s, as you stroll through a labyrinth of spice stores, pottery and carpentry workshops and rows of shops, including tailors, grocers, textile merchants and date-sellers.

Domestic Life

Traditional Dubai houses are considered to be among the finest examples of Gulf architecture. The earliest houses were constructed with humble building materials, including the leaves and trunks of palm trees (areesh), rocks and earthen clay. As flourishing pearl trade brought greater prosperity in the latter half of the last century, however, these gave away to houses built of stone and adorned with the Magnificent wind towers, updating the world's earliest form of air conditioning. 


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