After residential and religious buildings, the next most frequently used structures in the city would be the commercial buildings, also known as Souqs. A souq or souk is an open-air marketplace or commercial quarter in Middle Eastern and North African cities. The equivalent Persian term is "bazaar". Traditionally souqs formed when caravans arrived and merchants displayed their goods for sale in the open.
Since souqs started off as trading nodes of the settlement, the economy of U.A.E. needs to be discussed. Since the beginning of the 20th century the economy was sustained predominantly through the occupation of fishing and pearl diving. However the invention of artificial pearls and the Second World War had a negative impact on the economy. This is when the focus shifted to international trade and several ports were established on the coastline. Subsequently, a few decades later, oil was discovered and led to the rapid development of the country which present Dubai is a result of.
Being a country of traders, Dubai and the other cities depended heavily on its waterways. This led to the establishment of souqs and storage areas along the shore. It was also common practice for similar traders to come together and create specialized markets, like gold souq, spice market etc.
I bet most of you have watched Disney’s Aladdin. The reason I mention Aladdin is because that’s probably the most you have seen of a middle-eastern marketplace. In the fictitious land of Agrabah, the bazaar with its sandstone structures and narrow alleys play a big part in Aladdin and Abu’s life. You get a good idea of what the atmosphere of a souq is like, watching that movie.
Markets consisted of narrow alleys connected to one or more main streets about 3m wide and 4m high. The narrow streets were naturally shaded and cooler than other open spaces but palm tree fronds or mats sometimes additionally covered them. The construction was of coral stones and gypsum. They were low-rise structures with a maximum of two storeys. All the structures at the time followed the Islamic principles, which were focused on modesty, privacy and functionality. For this reason, souqs expanded organically. There were both seasonal and permanent souqs.
Souqs do still exist but are overshadowed by malls that are plentiful and luxurious in comparison. Nowadays, souqs are known to sell goods like spices, textiles etc. which are more of a traditional nature while shopping complexes and malls have retail stores belonging to international chains. Even though in every Emarati city the traditional markets still exist the, intimacy and interconnectedness among people has diminished. Some of the existing souqs are the old souq in Bur Dubai and the Spice souq in Deira among others in the various emirates. It is highly recommended that you stroll around the traditional souqs, to get the feel of an authentic middle- eastern public atmosphere.