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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 April 2019

Scents of history: Inside Al Shindagha Museum's Perfume House

The former home of the late Sheikha Sheikha bint Saeed bin Maktoum now houses a stunning collection of artefacts highlighting the tradition of perfuming in the region

You don’t have to look far to find evidence of the UAE’s love of perfume: the aromas of oud waft through the hallways of all our local malls and marketplaces, while modern high-end boutiques sell exclusive scents, including the most expensive in the world. Now, you can also head over to the recently opened Perfume House, at Al Shindagha Museum, to discover the foundations of this nation’s fondness for fragrance.

The centre is among the first at the museum, where a total of 23 cultural houses are set to open on the banks of Dubai Creek, on the side of Bur Dubai. This one is the former home of Sheikha Sheikha bint Saeed bin Maktoum, who was an avid perfumer and had many artefacts as part of her personal collection. It is located near the Historical Documents Centre.

Look through the photo gallery above to see more of the Perfume House.

For the most part, the museum’s collection is made up of pieces Sheikha Sheikha had in her house, including her perfume applicator and a 28-kilogram piece of oud, a raw scent ingredient, which she donated to the museum just weeks before she died, in 2017. Other artefacts have been sourced from notable Emirati families, as well as sites such as Saruq Al Hadid, an archaeological spot in Dubai.

A 1.2-metre piece of an oud that weighs 28 kilograms is part of the Perfume House's collection. Reem Mohammed / The National
A 1.2-metre piece of an oud that weighs 28 kilograms is part of the Perfume House's collection. Reem Mohammed / The National

As you enter the courtyard, you’re greeted with samples and descriptions of regional ingredients commonly used in perfume-making, from musk to myrtle flowers, and rose to saffron. Old-world architecture meets state-of-the-art technology throughout, as historical elements have been well preserved and stories are told through video interviews from first, second and third-generation Emiratis, who talk about their own family’s relationship with the tradition.

Ornate perfume bottles and traditional medkhans are on display. Reem Mohammed / The National
Ornate perfume bottles and traditional medkhans are on display. Reem Mohammed / The National

Elsewhere, interactive technology is utilised to tell a thorough picture of perfuming in the UAE, and you can wander past shelves of ornate bottles and medkhans, which traditionally hold perfume, as well as take a sniff at the various scents through custom-made smelling devices. Visitors will also find an interactive “mixing table”, through which they can learn how to create their own fragrance.

What's Al Shindagha Museum?

The Perfume House is one of two attractions that have just opened in the area, as part of the first phase of the project, which will see Al Shindagha become one of the world’s largest open-air museums once complete. The neighbourhood is identifiable thanks to its coral-clad houses, traditional wind towers and existing attractions such as the Heritage and Diving Museum and the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House.

It was the residence of the Al Maktoum family until as recently as 1958, and was the home of the Dubai monarch at the time, Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum, the grandfather of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.

Over the coming months, more elements are set to open, from an exhibition area that focuses on the different land environments in the UAE, to pavilions that outline the importance of other Emirati traditions, such as navigation and astronomy. When everything is ready, the entire project will comprise a welcome centre, children’s pavilion and educational public programming, as well as sections dedicated to “living off the sea and land”, governance and society, and creativity and well-being. The Perfume House is located in the latter section, which also includes centres exploring the heritage crafts of Dubai (such as pottery), beauty and adornments (from kohl to henna and traditional dress), jewellery and traditional medicine.

Al Shindagha Museum sits on the banks of the Dubai Creek and will consist of 23 museums, as part of the Dubai Historical District project. Reem Mohammed / The National
Al Shindagha Museum sits on the banks of the Dubai Creek and will consist of 23 museums, as part of the Dubai Historical District project. Reem Mohammed / The National

At the moment, you can also visit The Dubai Creek: Birth of a City pavilion, which serves as a starting point for the entire museum. It introduces visitors to the history of the emirate and takes them on a cultural journey, from the time Dubai was a small village on the banks of the Creek, to the moment it became the mega-metropolis it is today.

Tickets for the museum are Dh15 for adults and Dh10 for children, free entry for under fives.

Visit alshindagha.dubaiculture.gov.ae

Updated: April 11, 2019 05:58 PM

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