Cities develop over time – sometimes around their strategic location, other times by need. Some grow haphazardly, some in a structured, planned way, while others manage to maintain their original identity, defying the sprawling development that is inevitable as cities develop. Here are a few golden oldies worthy of everyone’s bucket list.
DUBAI – UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Dubai was once inhabited by Bedouins who made a living fishing, harvesting pearls and herding sheep and goats. Ancient dhows transported livestock and merchandise across the creek, camels were used as transport, and open markets were the shopping malls of the day. This ancient Dubai is still to be found amid the steel-and-glass skyscrapers of this most modern of Middle Eastern cities.
A great place to start is the historic Al Fahidi District in Bur Dubai, with its wind towers, stone-coloured buildings and minarets. Walk through twisting streets and past coral-clad mansions – many of them now restored and home to quirky coffee shops, art galleries and museums. From there, venture into the wonderfully colourful, a tad noisy and extremely fascinating souks for a spot of shopping. The Textile Souk sells everything from beautiful fabrics to clothes, handcrafted shoes and souvenirs – there are fabulous pashminas in every colour, texture and fabric you can
Across the Creek in Deira, accessed by nifty water taxis (abra), is the world-famous Gold Souk, where the narrow streets and lanes are lined with shops whose glass-fronted windows are crammed with gold – from delicate necklaces to large ceremonial pieces, and absolutely everything in between. The nearby Spice Souk offers a more traditional experience, where you can imagine the colourful selection of spices with their wonderfully heady aroma having arrived in hessian sacks on a heavily laden dhow – or a camel. Enjoy a fresh coconut drink, watermelon smoothie or
chicken shawarma along the quayside … or even a puff or two of the shisha pipe. www.visitdubai.com
MANILA – PHILIPPINES
This Asian city defies the obvious with its predominantly Christian population, with 86% being Roman Catholic – which is no surprise considering it was colonised by the Spanish from 1521 to 1898. Intramuros, Latin for ‘within the walls’, is the historic core of Manila. Its defensive walls were constructed in the late 16th century by the Spanish colonial government to protect the city from foreign invasions – and in later years to keep the ‘not so Spanish’ residents (their Filipino servants) out. A nightly curfew ensured the local workers left before the city gates closed.
The old city was guarded by Fort Santiago, a Spanish military fortress that imprisoned many Filipinos and Americans during the Spanish colonial period and World War II, but today it’s a great place to relax, visit the memorial museum and consider the Philippines’ colonial past. Another place of interest is the Church of San Agustin with its hand-carved wooden pews, an 18thcentury pipe organ and a beautiful trompe l’oeil ceiling. With some luck you may catch the local choir practising, or perhaps even a traditional wedding.
A stroll through the streets of Intramuros takes you past fast-food outlets, local eateries and food stalls with ube (purple yum, or rather yam) ice cream, ube cakes on a hot griddle, fried bananas on sticks and mounds of peanuts on trays. Ramshackle buildings adorned with political posters and peeling paint heave under the weight of power cables and crimson bougainvillea. Get a close-up look at the thick stone walls and surrounding moats, and climb the steps for a commanding view of the streets within Intramuros and Metro Manila – the sprawling area beyond the wall. www.experiencephilippines.org
STONE TOWN – ZANZIBAR
From narrow alleys, markets and mosques to freshly roasted coffee, spiced tea and fragrant curries, Stone Town is a delight to the senses. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the historic part of what is now the island’s capital, Zanzibar City. A melting pot of Arab, Indian, European and African cultures and traditions, it dates back centuries to a time when trade was in Chinese silks, spices, ivory and gold, to when Vasco de Gama brought European influences to the area, and when the Sultanate of Oman took control. During this time the slave trade flourished, until its (theoretical) abolition in 1873. Unfortunately, though, the trade went ‘underground’ for many more decades.
Start with a visit to the Old Fort, Palace Museum and House of Wonders for a sense of history, the Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church and the nearby memorial sculpture to get a grip on the atrocity of the slave trade, and then lighten up by filling your belly with traditional Zanzibar cuisine at the Forodhani Gardens Food Market. Wander through the maze of narrow alleyways and peek through the open doorways of old Arab mansions, immerse
yourself in the sights, sounds and smells at the Darajani Markets – fresh fish, neatly stacked fruit and veggies, fabulous spices and freshly baked bread – and finish the day with sundowners on a rooftop terrace. www.zanzibartourism.go.tz