Back in the day, societies were dutifully impressed by man’s ability to build great structures, including the judicious use of single monolithic pieces of granite, shaped meticulously into 30-meter high stone representations of the sun’s rays. These obelisks, or “needles” adorned opulent entryways to magnificent temples of the ancient world’s eminent rulers. The two-dozen or so of these monumental marvels remained in place for thousands of years until sought by the planet’s great 19th century cities. Transported at great human risk and financial expense they were given new homes in the centers of the modern world’s most illustrious capitals, befitting their legacy while bringing prestige and legitimacy to their new proprietors. Fabricating structures with the staying power to cause international government clamor after three millennia is what I would call a job well done: The creation of an all-enduring celebrated brand.
Fast-forward about three thousand and three hundred years to today, from the peak of Egypt’s prosperity to the tipping point of one of the world’s newest rich countries: The United Arab Emirates. As the “New Kingdom” of Egypt had prospered from the benefits of consolidating a vast, sprawling empire, the Emirates built their kingdom on oil. However, while some Emirates, such as Abu Dhabi, have significant oil resources remaining, Dubai’s is draining, causing the state to invest in potential new sources of future revenues.
Enter the City of Gold: Dubai is betting on bling and flirting with flamboyance as it rolls the dice on creating the world’s gilded gateway to the Middle East. Trading people for oil, it gambles all on grandstanding. The Emirati solution is tourism and financial services—if Dubai builds it, they will come. In an ever-competitive global environment everyone wants a chunk of tourism’s disposable income, so what do tourists want? What will bring them to the middle of the arid desert, slap in the middle of a constantly war-ravaged region of the planet? Gambling and booze? No, can’t do that on religious grounds. Vegas can keep that niche. The climate? Noooo. A rich history of culture and antiquities? Not much to offer in that department, so Rome, Greece, Egypt, Jordan et al. go at it.
The answer became abundantly clear: Dubai Disney for Dad—in a sense, and for Mom too. Not just some adult theme park, but the biggest, grandest, crowd-drawing playground imaginable. That is why the city has an endless list of Guinness entries for tallest anything, biggest most things, heaviest things you wouldn’t immediately appreciate, and most expensive things that you may possibly comprehend. For example, in the planet’s largest Mosque outside of Mecca, the world’s costliest by the way, there is the world’s largest rug, heaviest chandelier, and largest outdoor air-conditioned floor. The height thing is simply slayed here: leaving your room in the world’s tallest hotel you can go take the world’s fastest elevator up the world’s tallest building. Note to Dubai: I still had to wait a while for the world’s fastest elevator; maybe we need more of them? After that, you can go spend in the world’s largest shopping mall, peek at the world’s largest indoor aquarium, and afterwards wait in the world’s longest taxi line. Trip Advisor would’ve got my like for fastest taxi line, just sayin’. By any account, Dubai’s edificious erectus skills and resources are enviable and its construction prowess formidable. There truly is something magnificent here for everyone, though personally I like mountains, but didn’t want to say. Built to impress mankind, maybe Dubai isn’t that different from Ancient Egypt after all. I’m left thinking, where will these marvelous, costly record-breaking artifacts be three thousand years from now?
Photos Clockwise: The tallest hotel in the world has two immense towers, well why not? Early morning view from the balcony on the 59th floor. The record-breaking Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the Burj Khalifa.