Dubai’s historic gold souk shines again after lockdown

Evening dresses made of gold mesh, gilded sunglasses and glittering crowns are sparkling again from the windows of Dubai’s historic gold souk which was shuttered during the coronavirus lockdown.

One important element is still missing though — customers.

But for business owners, the reopening of one of the world’s biggest gold markets is a vital move towards normality ahead of the autumn tourist season, in a city that prides itself on shop-’til-you-drop experiences.

“Reopening the shops is a big step for us… The main factor here is psychological,” said Tawhid Abdullah, chairman of the Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group.

“We expect that by July or August when the airports reopen… we will regain 50 percent of our business activity,” he told a section of the media.

Dubai welcomed more than 16 million tourists last year, and was aiming for 20 million this year before the pandemic crippled global travel.

Unwanted holiday

Cloistered in the old trading centre, not far from its famous skyscrapers, the gold souk closed on March 24 and reopened under strict social distancing and hygiene rules on April 26.

The area where the market is located is known as Old Dubai, with decades-old buildings and haphazard alleyways thronged by Asian and African migrants who make up a majority of the area’s residents.

Videos of residents celebrating the end of the curfew, pouring onto the streets to clap and cheer, went viral on social media last month.

“When we came here the first day it was as if we were coming to a new place, so we sterilised everything. We were very very happy to be back,” said jeweller Chandu Siroya.

“Everybody wants to be on holiday, but this time it was the other way around. The holiday was too long so we were longing to be back,” he added, surrounded by a dozen employees wearing protective masks.

‘An iconic place’

Occupying a warren of streets and covered with traditional barasti roofing made of date palm fronds, the century-old market neighbours Dubai’s other traditional souks selling spices and carpets.

“This is an iconic place, the heart of our city of gold, and it’s important to see it open,” said Abdullah.