Skip to main content

Urban Heritage in the Arabian Peninsula, the Experiences of Jeddah and Dubai


Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates feature ultra-modern cities with millions of residents that developed in opposition to the physical patterns of traditional historical settlements. In the past years, however, there has been a renewed attention to urban heritage and two metropolises, Jeddah and Dubai, have decided to aim for World Heritage status and to leverage historic city centres as engines of economic development and tools for the reinforcement of national identity. In Dubai, the conservation and reconstruction of historic neighbourhoods gives residents an urban historic depth previously unrecognised, favouring the integration of different ethnic communities while contributing to the tourist development of the Emirate. In Jeddah, the preservation and revitalisation of the historic centre is part of a larger strategy focusing on the reinforcement of the private sector to trigger new urban dynamics building upon its rich heritage. Recent strategies and plans are briefly discussed, underlining the specificities of the Arabian Peninsula context and its complex and evolving relationship with history and heritage. It is argued that the nominations for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List have been a catalyser for the definition of new planning and conservation policies integrating urban heritage into urban development strategies.


  • Abdu, Mohamed Sani, Jalaluddin Yousef Salagoor, and Fahad An-Nwisser Al-Harigi. 2002. “Jeddah Urban Growth and Development process: the Underlying Factors.” Scientific Journal of King Faisal University 3 (1): 111–135.

    Google Scholar 

  • Al Sayegh, Fatima. 1998. “Merchants’ Role in a Changing Society: the Case of Dubai 1900–1990.” Middle Eastern Studies 34 (1): 87–102.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Aslan, Zaki, and Eman Assi. 2016. Urban Conservation and Reconstruction in the Gulf. Dubai: Dubai Municipality.

    Google Scholar 

  • Assi, Eman. 2015. “Urban Conservation and Reconstruction in the Gulf: The Case of Dubai.” Sustainable Development, Culture, Traditions 1a. Accessed 17 September 2018.

  • Assi, Eman, and Rashad Bukhash. 2011. Traditional Houses of Dubai. Dubai: Municipality of Dubai.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bandarin, Francesco, and Ron van Oers. 2012. The Historic Urban Landscape: Managing Heritage in an Urban Century. UK: Wiley-Backwell.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Bokhari, Abdulla Y. 1983. “Conservation in the Historic District of Jeddah.” In Adaptive Reuse: Integrating Traditional Areas into the Modern Urban Fabric, edited by Margaret Bentley Sevcenko. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Laboratory of Architecture and Planning.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boussaa, Djamel. 2014. “Cultural Heritage in the Gulf: Blight or Blessing? A Discussion of Evidence from Dubai, Jeddah and Doha.” Middle East - Topics & Arguments 3: 55–70.

    Google Scholar 

  • Christie, John. 1987. “A City within a City.” Saudi ARAMCO World 38 (5).

  • Coles, Anne, and Peter Jackson. 2007. Windtower: Houses of the Bastaki. London: Stacey International.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cuneo, Paolo. 1978. “The Cities of the Red Sea.” [Le città del Mar Rosso.] Storia della città 7:26–42.

    Google Scholar 

  • Damluji, Salma Samer. 2006. The Architecture of the United Arab Emirates. Reading: Garnet Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Facey, William. 2005. “Queen of the India Trade.” Saudi ARAMCO World. 56 (6): 10–16.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heard-Bey, Frauke. 2004. From Trucial States to the United Arab Emirates, A Society in Transition. Dubai: Motivate Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Helmy, Mona. 2008. “Urban Branding Strategies and the Emerging Arab Cityscape. The Image of the Gulf City.” PhD Diss., Universität Stuttgart, Städtebau-Institut.

  • King, Geoffrey. 1998. The Traditional Architecture of Saudi Arabia. London: I.B. Tauris.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 2013. “Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Makkah. Nomination File for Inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.” Accessed 17 September 2018.

  • Matthew, Robert. 1980. Jeddah: Historic Area Study, Design Demonstration Study. Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs. Jeddah: Municipality of Jeddah.

    Google Scholar 

  • Montagu, Caroline. 2015. “Civil Society in Saudi Arabia: The Power and Challenges of Association.” Research Paper, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House, UK.

  • Olroyd-Robinson, Keith. 2006. “The Urban Architecture of Bastakiyyah.” In The Architecture of the United Arab Emirates, edited by Salma Damluji, 179–204. Reading: Garnet Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pacione, Michael. 2005. “City Profile: Dubai.” Cities 22 (3): 255–265.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pesce, Angelo. 1974. Jiddah, Portrait of an Arabian City. London: Falcon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rab, Samia. 2010. “Dubai: Architecture and Heritage in Service of Globalisation”. In Espaces urbains à l’aube du XXIème siècle, Patrimoine et héritages culturels, edited by Philippe Boulanger and Céline Hullo-Pouyat, 221–229. Paris: PUPS.

    Google Scholar 

  • UNESCO. 2011. Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape. UNESCO. Accessed 17 September 2018.

  • United Arab Emirates. 2012. “Khor Dubai. Tentative List for UNESCO.” Accessed 17 September 2018.

  • Wheeler, Julia, and Paul Thuysbaert. 2005. Telling Tales, an Oral History of Dubai. Dubai: Explorer Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wirth, Erich. 1988. “Dubai. A Modern Urban Trading and Service Center on the Arabian-Persian Gulf.” [Ein modernes städtisches Handels und Dienstleistungszentrum am Arabisch-Persischen Golf.] Erlangen Geographische Arbeiten 48.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Simone Ricca.

Rights and permissions

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ricca, S. Urban Heritage in the Arabian Peninsula, the Experiences of Jeddah and Dubai. Built Heritage 2, 108–122 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: