Archaeological travel guide to the Jumeirah Archaeological Site, 1000-year-old ruins in Dubai located just 3 km from the world-famous Burj Khalifa.

Looking down from the 148th floor of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, you get a good feel for the multifaceted city of Dubai.

In every direction, there are dozens of buildings are reaching up to the same level as you — many still under construction, others completed but vacant. Directly beneath you is a shopping promenade with shining turquoise pools, home to some of the most luxurious brands to be found anywhere. And perhaps most shockingly, to the south and east, there is the clear barrier where the city simply stops, giving way to the Arabian desert.

To the northwest, looking out to the ocean and the famous The World Islands just off the coast is the residential district of Jumeirah. Tucked away in this quiet neighborhood is the Jumeirah Archaeological site,

The Jumeriah Archaeological Site is an urban settlement in Dubai dating from the Abbasid Period (c. 900-1200 CE). Excavations began in 1969 and concluded in 2008. Archaeologists found residences, a hotel, a souk market, and Dubai’s oldest mosque. The excavation site is now preserved by the Dubai museum and open to visitors.

Any visitor with an interest in history would do well to pay significant settlement a visit if passing through Dubai’s world-renowned cityscape.

The Story of the Jumeirah Archaeological Site

The Jumeirah Archaeological Site from the Dubai Water Canal Foot Bridge.
The Jumeirah Archaeological Site from the Dubai Water Canal Foot Bridge.

Dubai in the Abbasid Period

The Abbasid Period (c. 900-1200 CE) was one of the early Islamic caliphates that controlled a majority of the Middle East. During this time, much of the coastal area in what is now the UAE was supported entirely by their position on the coast, which is thought to have not changed much prior to the 20th Century. Fishing and pearl diving remained the area’s primary industry into the 1800s.

Broken pot recovered from the Jumeirah Archaeological Site.
Broken pot recovered from the Jumeirah Archaeological Site.

This perception changed with the rediscovery of the Jumeirah site, which provided evidence of Dubai’s settlement during the early Islamic period. At this time, numerous trade routes crossed all over the Middle East as one of central the hubs of the world. The ancient Jumeirah site was centrally located along the coastal route from Oman to Iraq.

Artifacts found at the site, now displayed at both the on-site museum and the Dubai Museum further into the city, display a high level of sophistication and prosperity for the small trading community. Artifacts have also demonstrated evidence for industrial and specialized craft activities, including pottery, glass, and metalworking using gold, bronze, and iron.

The Modern Jumeirah Neighborhood

Jumeirah is the general name given to the long coastal region west of central Dubai. This area runs approximately 10-15 kilometers, depending on if you’re going by the area’s official or colloquial boundaries. If given the broadest definition, it could extend as far as the Burj Al Arab Hotel, however, Jumeirah is mostly centered around the southern mountain of Dubai Creek.

In this area are hundreds of quiet homes in a neighborhood surrounding a fenced off block containing the Jumeirah Archaeological Site. They are also near the coastal road, which contains many fantastic local attractions and restaurants outside of the center city.

Uncovering Ancient Jumeirah

Model of the Jumeirah Archaeological Site at the Dubai Museum.
Model of the Jumeirah Archaeological Site at the Dubai Museum.

The Jumeirah Archaeological site was rediscovered in 1968-9 during the development of the now-residential area just north of Dubai Creek. The importance of the site was recognized almost immediately, s it demonstrated the signs of urban development during an era when the area was primarily thought to have been supported by coastal fishing and pearl diving.

During excavation, Jumeirah took on the nickname “White City” due to the white plaster that was seen covering the exteriors of the 8 buried buildings which included homes, a mosque, a marketplace, and an inn for travellers. One archaeologist involved in the site’s excavation cited several artifacts either containing or being affected by hazardous materials. Additionally, he said that many excavation pits yielded dangerous animals such as snakes and scorpions.

Since the completion of the excavations in 2008, the Jumeirah Archaeological Site has been administered by the Dubai Museum.

Visiting the Jumeirah Archaeological Site

The Jumeirah Archaeological Site from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa.
The Jumeirah Archaeological Site from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa.

After having been in Dubai for about a week for work, I decided to make use of some free afternoon to visit other areas of the city. While most of the United Arab Emirate’s archaeological sites lie too fat out of the city, there was one excavation site only a few kilometers from where I was staying: thee Jumeirah Archaeological Site.

Despite the abundance of information in English on Dubai and the neighboring emirates, there was curiously almost no information on the Jumeirah site other than its location. Another curiosity occurred in trying to reach the site. Although it would have been only about a 3-kilometer walk from the hotel (not recommended in the middle of the afternoon), a taxi ride from the hotel ended up being over 10 km due to the one-ways and highways that were available to my driver.

Standard home in Jumeirah
Standard home in Jumeirah
Entrance to the Jumeirah Archaeological Site and on-site museum.
Entrance to the Jumeirah Archaeological Site and on-site museum.

We had taken the highways to the coastal road in Jumeirah, which is home so some of the best local restaurants in the city (I would later find out). The taxi dropped me off about a block away from the site, so I got a view of the area. Many of the homes were quiet and quite nice middle to upper-middle-class homes in the U.S., no idea for Dubai.

However, when I got to the entrance to the archaeological site, the guard at the gate told me both the site and the on-site museum were closed. He couldn’t give me any particular reason or make any exception — I would simply not be allowed in.

Street and fence surrounding the Jumeirah Archaeological Site.
Street and fence surrounding the Jumeirah Archaeological Site.
View inside the Jumeirah ruins through the fence.
View inside the Jumeirah ruins through the fence.

The only alternative, it seemed was to view the site from the outside. The entire Jumeirah Archaeological Site is encircled by a fence that is easily seen-through. It wasn’t quite the same as touring the inside of the site, but it was the next best thing.

The Jumeriah Archaeological Site contains 8 buildings, although only 4 of these buildings are clearly intact. 5 of the buildings are residential homes. The 3 other specialized buildings include a souk market, a caravanserai, and Dubai’s oldest mosque.

Ruler’s House / Palace

Model of the ruler's house in the Dubai Museum.
Model of the ruler’s house in the Dubai Museum.

Determined to be a residential building, but more prestigious and larger than the others found at the Jumeirah, the ruler’s house contained 10 rooms and was 90 meters on each side. It was divided into 2 sections, one presumed to be the main residence and the other to receive guests.

The ruler’s house, like other buildings in ancient Jumeirah, was built with sea rocks and covered with plaster/stucco, giving it a white hue. The ruler’s home’s doors and windows were adorned with gypsum and its 4 corners all had circular towers to signify its status. This trait would also be found on the Caravanserai ruins.

Caravanserai

The caravanserai from outside the fence.
The caravanserai from outside the fence.

The caravanserai at Jumeirah contained 15 rooms all around a central courtyard. The building was used to house merchants traveling along the popular trade routes between Oman, India, and other regions throughout the Middle East. Each of the rooms is a small rectangular chamber, ranging in size from about 5 meters long to only large enough for beds for no more than 2 people.

Like the ruler’s house, the caravanserai also had rounded towers decorating each corner.

Mosque

Although a very small building with only the base remaining, this mosque is recognized as the first mosque in ancient Dubai. It contains a small reception hall and a niche facing Mecca for praying.

Residential Buildings

Representation of a residential building along the site's outer fence.
Representation of a residential building along the site’s outer fence.

The residential buildings of ancient Jumeirah all consisted of multiple separate rooms, some encircling a central courtyard.

The Souk Marketplace

Photo of the souk marketplace at the Dubai Museum.
Photo of the souk marketplace at the Dubai Museum.

Considered the oldest souk in Dubai, the marketplace at the Jumeirah Archaeological Site is made of seven shops facing each other along a single road. These shops all featured a 75 cm bench for displaying goods for sale.

Visiting the Jumeirah Exhibit at the Dubai Museum

Old Dubai Fort and the Dubai Museum
Old Dubai Fort and the Dubai Museum

Across town, near the northern mouth of the Dubai Creek is the classical settlement of Dubai, where the remains of the Old Dubai City Wall and other remnants have been converted into the Dubai Museum. Located near the end of the Museum is the archaeological exhibition, which includes a large section on the Jumeirah Archaeological Site.

The archaeological exhibit displays scale reproductions of the ruined building excavated from ancient Jumeirah. There are also many exceptional ceramic artifacts on display, including foreign-made wares like celadon pottery originating in China.

How to Get to the Jumeirah Archaeological Site

GPS Coordinates: 25.19751, 55.24188

After attempting a few times to walk around Dubai during the daytime, I would strongly recommend against walking to Jumeirah from the central city. The pure heat and sunlight combine with the broad streets and barriers created by highways to make the task quite an undertaking.

However, taxis are plentiful and affordable in Dubai. Most of the drivers I encountered were of Indian or South Asian heritages and spoke English. As long as you can give a clear indication fo where you’re trying to get to, even a GPS map, you’ll be there quickly.

During my visit, I found Uber to be the most efficient way to get anywhere in the city.

Fast Facts


Fast Facts

Name: Jumeirah Archaeological Site

Where: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Location: 25.19751, 55.24188

Description: Urban settlement from the Abbasid Period (9th-12th Centuries CE) that hosted caravans and traveling merchants through the region’s trade routes..

Getting there: Taxis are available from any area of Dubai city.

Cost: Free


Glossary

Abbasid Caliphate
Islamic empire which lasted from 750–1258 and controlled much of the Middle East.

caravanserai
An inn for traveling merchants and caravans on trade routes

Dubai
One of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai Creek
Saltwater waterway enclosing central Dubai and connection to the Persian Gulf on both ends.

emirate
Nation or territory controlled by an emir, often a king or noble.

Islam
Monotheistic offshoot of Judaism founded in the 7th Century CE and based on the teachings of Mohammad.

mosque
Temple used in the worship of Islam.

souk
An established marketplace in West Asia and the Middle East.

Sources

Benjamin

Benjamin

Hi all, my name is Ben. I’m a native Michigander with a passion for human culture and new places, and more than that, new experiences. I have degrees in archaeology and writing, pursuing a career in the latter. However, I never quite lost that fascination for archaeological theory. For the past 9 years, I’ve been living and travelling in Asia, documenting ancient sites and the peoples who built them, and then adapting them into practical archaeological travel information at PathsUnwritten.com.

What are your thoughts?