Dubai, jewel in the crown of the United Arab Emirates and one of the most expensive cities in the world, is known for images of luxury and extremes. It’s the home of the world’s tallest building, the world’s biggest and most expensive yacht, the top two most expensive drinks, and a lot of extreme architecture. All sorts of businesses make their homes there, luxury super-cars roam the streets, and money flows like water.
Secrets hide in plain sight, though, with abandoned construction projects and ancient ghost towns in and around the city that tell far different stories. Thousands of abandoned cars that are worth upwards of $1.5 million have been found in parking lots all over Dubai, exotic pets bought by people with more money than sense have been let loose, and hundreds of villas have been left to rot because nobody’s purchased them or the owners had to walk away.
Before oil was discovered in the area in 1966 – nobody was making money off it until 1969 – Dubai was the home of major trade due to how close it was to Iraq, and its lovely harbor. The late 1940s saw most of the city’s infrastructure development thanks to efforts by then-ruler Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, which included a proper asphalt runway in 1970. He knew exactly what was needed to put Dubai into a position of success, and it paid off once oil money started rolling in. A population boom took place over the course of 7 years that increased the amount of people in Dubai by 300%.
That was the base that modern Dubai was constructed on. Now? There’s still money to be made, but the facade of success started to crumble with the 2008 economic downturn. Now, let’s take a look at the Dubai, and its surroundings, we don’t normally see.
10. Jebel Ali Village
In 1977, Jebel Ali village sprung up outside Dubai to serve as a home away from home for expatriates, and to support the construction of the still-active Jebel Ali port. There were 300 or so villas, medical facilities, a water plant, a park, and a club. The unfortunate part was that it completely lacked any grocery stores until the 1980s, so citizens had to drive to Dubai to get food and other supplies. The town was closed down in 2008 on the promise that it would be refreshed, and was completely empty in 2011. The good news is that the village is being rebuilt, but time will tell if it’s ever completed.
9. Palm Jebel Ali
Not long after Palm Jumeirah’s construction was completed in 2001, another set of artificial islands was announced and work began – but never finished. Palm Jebel Ali was named after the village with the same name and was meant to finish in 2008. The economic downturn put the project on hold, leaving behind completed islands that are slowly eroding away, and a series of massive pillars that made up the would-be flyover to the island. Nakheel, the developer of this project and several others that have been abandoned, started offering refunds to investors in 2011, further hinting that the islands would never be completed.
8. Al Jazirah Al Hamra
Al Jazirah Al Hamra is about 700 years old and a relic of the past pearl diving industry. Much of the town is in ruins, though examples of traditional architecture are still present and work has been underway to preserve the site. The other thing that makes people keep going back? It’s said that the town is haunted – which really ought to be expected considering how long people have been living in the area. Members of the Al-Zaab tribe lived here up until the discovery of oil in the region, and they moved to Abu Dhabi due to some problems they were having with the then-ruler of nearby Ras Al Khaimah.
7. Building #33 in Al Khail Gate
In 2011, people living in a building in Al Khail Gate left the place, and six months after the initial abandonment, the management company locked the doors. A few suicides have taken place in the building and several of the people that abandoned the place reported mysterious happenings that drove them out. As of 2013, No. 33 was still abandoned, but undergoing repairs. There haven’t been any more recent updates, so the fate of this building isn’t clear (but if you have recent information, please share).
6. Dubai’s Abandoned Building Problem
Dubai news sites frequently report the city’s threats to knock down abandoned buildings, with upwards of 250 abandoned villas being threatened with the wrecking ball at once. Abandonment is a major issue in Dubai as people find themselves unable to make use of their investment, or simply not wanting to use what they’ve purchased. Unlike in many other cities, though, Dubai is actually able to take action and knock down these properties.
The city usually starts the process of reporting and making renovation requests when a building has been abandoned for six months.
5. The Arabian Canal
There’s a man-made, accidental lake in Dubai right now, and it was meant to be a much larger project. The 75 km Arabian Canal was to go around the Al Maktoum International Airport from the Dubai Marina before heading back out by Palm Jebel Ali – unfortunately, it was put on hold in 2009 and has been sitting in limbo ever since. It would have been able to support 40-meter-long yachts and would have cost $11 billion. For now, the section that has been excavated acts as an accidental oasis for local wildlife.
Dubai is really fond of massive skyscrapers, and this was meant to be one of them. Pentominium, if it were to be completed, would have been the tallest residential building in the world and the second-tallest of Dubai’s skyscrapers. Construction started in 2009, 22 floors were put up, and in 2011 the project was abruptly stopped. Why? The developer had fallen behind on its massive loans. There has not been any further work on the site.
3. Burj Al Alam
Set to be built in Dubai’s Business Bay area, the 108-story skyscraper was supposed to be finished in 2009. Construction started in 2006, as pictured above, but repeated payment delays stalled work on the tower in 2009. All that had been built were the pilings. This project, another victim of the financial crisis, was officially canned in 2013 and the foundation filled in. The site of what was to be one of the world’s tallest buildings is now an empty lot.
2. The World Islands
Known as Juzur al-Alam in Arabic, this complete-but-abandoned set of islands was to be part of Dubai’s collection of man-made islands, and was meant to mimic the world map. This is another Nakheel project. Construction was stopped in 2008 after 5 years of work when the financial crisis hit, and development hasn’t popped up even though 60% of the islands had been sold. A whopping two islands have stuff on them.
1. Queen Elizabeth 2 Ocean Liner
Launched in 1967, the QE2 was the flagship of Cunard Line for 40 years before her retirement, and was purchased by Dubai World in 2008 with plans for her to become a fancy floating hotel. If we’ve learned anything from the issues with Captain John’s Harbor Boat Restaurant in Toronto (once the MS Jadran), it’s that upkeep on an old ship needs to be constant and there are really unique challenges that you don’t find in a building. If you recognize Cunard Line, it’s because they merged with White Star Line, which was the company that owned the Titanic. Anyway. You can probably figure out where this has gone: the QE2 has been sitting in Port Rashid since she was purchased, and with the engines being shut off in 2013, the vessel has been suffering from problems with mold… oh, and the stuff that tends to happen when a ship gets abandoned for multiple years. She’s falling apart.
Efforts to save her have kinda sorta begun, with concerned admirers trying to get the word out, but so far it’s looking like the QE2 will be going to the scrapyard if she doesn’t rot away and sink.