Madinat Jumeirah: Venice of the Gulf – Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Madinat Jumeirah: Venice of the Gulf
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Who would have thought that in the shimmering desert of Dubai, second largest emirate of the United Arab Emirates, a Venetian styled resort could rise? Seen from the confluence of Umm Suqeim and Jumeirah roads, the Madinat Jumeirah resort suddenly rises out of the horizon, its flying buttresses, rustic wind towers swathe the skyline, the imposing modernism of the Burj Al Arab and the Wild Wadi Waterpark at the backdrop.

City Within a City
Started construction in 2001 by 20,000 men and women from 25 countries, the workers dug 3.5 kilometers of trenches snaking in and around the 40-hectare resort, filled the dikes up with 600,000 gallons of water almost equivalent to 2.5 million liters, set afloat 36 abras or water taxis, hammered and sawed, laid layers and layers of bricks and fabricated bridges over the waterways. The result – a dreamlike Venice on what was once an austere beach.

A lifeguard stands guard over hotel guests at the Al Qasr leisure pool
A lifeguard stands guard over hotel guests at the Al Qasr leisure pool
Oblivious to the 45ْ C heat of the sweltering sun, the workers labored on, day in and day out beating the almost impossible 2-year timetable, engineering 29 mud brick houses interconnected by 3 kilometers of meandering paved pathways. Here and there they built a 75-retail shopping mall (authentically designed to resemble a frenzied traditional spice souk or shop) equipped with 454-seat theatre and 1,000-seat amphitheatre, two distinct hotels on either side of the resort, the Mina Al’ Salam (Harbor of Peace) and the Al Qasr (The Palace) each with 292 rooms and suites.

They constructed forty two restaurants and bars of different blend and flair in every corner, a 26-treatment room wellness spa, considered the region’s largest, seven “Malakiya” villas (each named after the seven emirates), 29 traditional courtyard summer houses comprising a total of 283 private rooms and suites and a 4,500-seat multipurpose venue (also the region’s largest) all bathed in authentic Arabic design and objets d’art painstakingly donned to recreate Arabia’s days of yore. The effect – a whole new city within a city dabbed in an inspiring fusion of Arabic architecture and Venetian ambience and style.

“It’s so lovely here, it feels like Venice,” enthuses one guest as she cruises along the canals for the first time.

Basil, an abra captain from Morocco, when asked what he likes about the resort exclaimed “It’s very romantic! Who can deny? It’s so romantic that there were nights beaus would propose to their inamoratas when we get under the bridges,” he giggled.

Safe and Sound
“It’s like you’re no longer in Dubai,” fires up Dorothy, a real estate buyer from the United Kingdom. “You feel safe, there are lifeguards everywhere.” Like the millions who have made Dubai their favorite destination, Dorothy has been spending her holidays in the metropolis for four years.

To make the picture complete, 4,000 swaying date and coconut palm trees imported from Ras Al Khaimah, a neighboring emirate, dot the entire landscape. Though Madinat Jumeirah translates into “City of Burning Embers” no embers illuminate its gates and twisting paths but gas-lit torches do, accentuating its citadel-like fortresses like in the days of old. Accessibility and safety are ensured with the twenty abra stations in all the nook and crannies manned by 150 highly trained lifeguards from Russia, Bulgaria, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Africa, etc.

Size Does Matter
Being Dubai’s largest resort and the only one with water taxis as a necessity and luxury, Madinat Jumeirah’s expanse could be its biggest draw initially but it is also one of its flaws, well, in a sense. Becomingly popular as ‘one giant maze’, guests and staff alike regularly lose their way in the resort’s zigzagging twists and turns. Despite conspicuously displayed arrows and notice boards, guests constantly complain of ending up in the opposite direction. The ‘handy’ maps given out to guests at the information booths are not much help either, beleaguering shoppers even more.

The 75-retail shopping mall Souk Madinat,
The 75-retail shopping mall Souk Madinat, “abras” or water taxis at the foreground
“I’ve been walking around for two hours looking for the conference hall but nobody seems to know. The staffs have been pointing me to different directions,” complains one heavily perspiring guest.

The resort is only a 10-minute drive from downtown Dubai and only 25 minutes away from the Dubai International Airport. Getting there is no hassle but finding your way once inside is a real challenge.

Madinat Jumeirah has already had its global debut when it co-hosted the momentous Dubai International Film Festival, the very first for the city. Morgan Freeman, Orlando Bloom, Sarah Michelle Gellar are just some of the Hollywood stars who graced the event and were transients of the resort.

Upcoming Venices
But Madinat Jumeirah is not the only resort hotel in Dubai with ambient water like that of Venice neither it is the only city within a city. In fact, there are many other inner cities like the Festival City, Media City, Internet City, Healthcare City, Dubai Humanitarian City, etc. Most if not all of the mushrooming properties in the metropolis are now constructed either on or around bodies of water. Consider the Burj Dubai, geared at being the tallest building in the world, being erected on a man-made island surrounded by artificial lagoons. Look at the Ski Dubai itself, the would-be world’s third largest ski range, phenomenally rising in the middle of the desert while trapping inside it below zero degree temperature. Fronting it is a gleaming waterway punctuating its massive structure. Theoretically lacking space, Dubai carves the World and the Palm Islands (linked to the mainland by a 360-meter bridge), massive island strips and/or crescents that will flaunt highly sophisticated residential and commercial units.

This should not come as a surprise though. Dubai’s economic boom was spawned not in the vast Arabian Desert but alongside the Dubai Creek, its past and present lifeline. Ruled by the Bani Yas tribe under the Maktoum family in 1833 and up until now, its earlier inhabitants engaged in fishing, pearl diving and trading that centered on the creek. When the creek was dredged in 1963 allowing bigger vessels from Iraq, Iran, Yemen and other neighboring countries into the creek, trading exploded. Jumeirah itself (where Madinat is based) was a former fishing village before it became a tourism hub that it is now. As tourism bourgeoned so did waters start flowing in the emirate’s wilderness. Probably owing to their past and its importance in their aesthetic pursuits like Madinat Jumeirah, today water is an ever present element all over Dubai, ostentatiously displayed in its recesses. After all how else can a sprawling desert attract tourists from the world over in the heat of its summer?

Mina A' Salam hotel, the waterway and Burj Al Arab
Mina A’ Salam hotel, the waterway and Burj Al Arab
Whatever the reason, Dubai seems to be succeeding. Despite its harsh climate, the mercury rises up to 48˚C in the summer and goes down to 10˚C in the winter, tourists keep pouring in. The Department of Civil Aviation Dubai recorded 21.7 million passengers in 2004, with over 106 international airlines from 160 destinations carrying passengers to Dubai, reported Rimzie Ismail, Business Development Manager at the Dubai Information Update 2005. The Dubai International Airport is the busiest airport next to Seoul, he said. The flag carrier, Emirates Airlines flies to 70 destinations in Asia, Australasia, Europe, Middle East and America, the airline itself continually expanding.

Summer or winter, Dubai would seem to enjoy a continuous influx of tourists while whittling out more Venetian inspired hotels and resorts. Madinat Jumeirah may not last long as the Gulf’s Venice after all but the title remains, for now.

Filed under: 170
Tags: , ,