Dubai: Ibn Battuta Mall

Following up the runaway success of my post on Terminal 21 in Bangkok, I think I might become a specialist in theme malls. I admit I felt a little thrill at going to the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai not so much because I admire the 14th-century traveler (though I do), but because I was hoping for some really tacky things to take pictures of.

It certainly looked promising. The idea is that the mall’s various sections represent the major places Ibn Battuta traveled: Egypt, India, Persia and China.

Next to the mall is a hotel–that’s the place with the Morocco theme. (Because IB was from Morocco, I guess–so that’s his home base, where he rests his head?)

Louvre-ish pyramids have something to do with the next couple of photos, I think.

The entrance closest to the metro is the Egypt-theme one. Check it:

Actually, seeing how sites in Egypt are managed, I almost did feel like I was there.
But this gave it away.

So I’m sauntering in, thinking it’s gonna be super-cheesy…but this is some kind of crazy educational mall. There are all these displays about medieval Arab mathematicians and their assorted genius inventions.

Er. Except I can't remember what this was for. Astronomical readings of some kind.
"As soon as we're done here, we can all go get some new barrettes at Claire's. So, c'mon, everybody, let's focus."

In the Persia court, there was a touchscreen game to play, involving some surprisingly tricky geography and history questions. I got killed by the Black Death before I could make it to the Far East. Story of my life.

Climb on your donkey, bid farewell to your loved ones and begin your great journey!

One display even explained properly how all these Arab-invented navigational tools, like astrolabes and quadrants, work. I'm used to just seeing them in dusty museums. Here, you could play with them and line them up with fake stars and things. My actual retention of information is poor, but at the time, I certainly thought, “Wow–I finally get it!”

Astrolabes--you can't swing a cat in the Middle East without hitting one.

The coolest thing was this, in the India wing. Even though the explanation panels weren’t working, nor was the device itself. Guess what it is?

OK, I'll tell you: it's a clock.

I didn’t know it was a clock at the time–I only read about Al-Jazari’s elephant clock a couple of days later in a museum. But, still. I love that there’s even a bit of grass in the elephant’s trunk. For authenticity.

And the mall is just remarkably beautiful.

The dome in the Persia wing.

(If that green font is looking kind of familiar…yeah, it’s Starbucks.)

By the time I got to the China wing, I was genuinely agog.

That's a whole Chinese junk in the background.

The funny thing is that, despite all this lavish detail, the mall is just not a very good mall. It doesn’t rate a special air-conditioned tube entrance from the metro, so you have to trudge across the pavement in the heat. And if you look back to see how far you’ve come, you see a whole mass of power plants and smokestacks.

It’s all on one floor–no fancy escalators to take in the view from. And the shops aren’t particularly great–in fact, the whole place smells like vinyl from all the cheap shoe stores. (Not complaining–I got some much-needed new sneakers.) There’s a ‘Marble Slab Creamery’ (the much nicer Mall of the Emirates has a real Cold Stone) and other various not-quite-right businesses, like Borders books. Which I thought shouldn’t exist anymore.

And the clientele is a little more downscale. Which means that, instead of tourists in I’m-on-holiday getups and Emirati ladies in rhinestone-studded abayas, there were lots of people in sort of average clothing from wherever they were from. Which was frankly a bit of a relief after all the other Dubai craziness. And, in some cases, it meant they fit in nicely with the decor.

Which way to the Foot Locker?
Granny carts are an Arab invention too. Didn't you know?

If you’re curious about Ibn Battuta at all (Google did a doodle for his birthday on February 25), do yourself a favor and read Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s books about traveling in his footsteps. The series starts with Travels with a Tangerine, in which TM-S arrives in Dubai and visits this very mall. Hijinks ensue. Truly, it’s great travel writing–hilarious and edifying. You might even be able to buy it at the Borders.