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Oil-rich Dubai redraws the atlas

By Matthew Knight for CNN
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(CNN) -- In the early 1960's oil was discovered 75 miles off the coast of the United Arab Emirates transforming the economy of Dubai and its six neighboring federated states.

When the price of oil soared in the 1970's, the country quickly became one of the wealthiest nations on earth and laid the foundations for Dubai's astonishing modern building program.

It is not only what is being created in Dubai, but the speed and the scale of it.

Dubbed "Mushroom City," it is the fastest growing urban center on Earth and currently has, it is estimated, one fifth of all the world's cranes splattered across its skyline.

Spending for present and future buildings is said to be a mind-boggling $100 billion.

Already open to the public is a 400 meter indoor ski slope, the biggest shopping mall in the world and the Burj al-Arab, the world's tallest hotel (remember Tiger Woods teeing off from the helipad?), which claims to be the first "seven-star hotel".

Crowning glory

Twenty miles southwest of Dubai city is Jebel Ali port, the largest man-made harbor ever built and the largest in the Middle East.

Under construction is a $500 million underwater hotel, the world's largest retail development and the cloud-scratching Burj Dubai, which at over 800 meters tall will comfortably be the world's tallest building when finished in 2008.

But the crowning glory of Dubai's building program and the reason for its modern wonder status is undoubtedly its offshore Palm and World Islands development -- the largest land reclamation project the world has ever seen.

Work on the first of three Palm Islands (Jumeirah) began in 2001. A team of Dutch engineers were employed to create the Palm by using a technique called rainbowing -- a vessel dredging sand from the seabed and spraying and piling it onto the desired area and into the requested shape.

On creation of the land, a team of 7,000 construction workers then set about building the exclusive hotels and apartments that line the trunk and fronds of the Palm.

This process is being repeated for the Palm Jebel Ali, which will be 50 per cent bigger than Jumeirah and cater to the population's entertainment needs, featuring a "Sea Village" and six marinas.

When it is completed, the final island Palm Deira, will cover a greater landmass than Manhattan with 41 fronds providing a range of luxury housing, whilst the trunk will provide residents with sports, shopping, bar and club facilities.

"The World" is perhaps the most audacious project being built in Dubai at the moment. With real estate brochures offering clients the chance "to buy the World" the reclaimed land will consist of 300 islands in eight archipelagos, which will depict the eight continents of the world.

Using 25 million tonnes of rock and 200 million cubic meters of sand the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum hopes to create the ultimate and most exclusive millionaire's playground.

"To see a world in a grain of sand", the poet William Blake once wrote. Dubai is turning that philosophical musing into a concrete reality.


Dubai's Palm Islands are built on land reclaimed from the sea.

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