But the emirate suffered a real estate crash at the end of 2008 when the global financial crisis hit.

Investor confidence was badly dented again in November when the emirate's largest conglomerate announced it planned to delay debt repayments.

The Burj Dubai's opening on Monday is seen as a positive start to the year and analysts believe Dubai's financial troubles have not hurt sales of the approximately 1,100 residential units in the "super-scraper".

Higher and higher

However, the building has come in for criticism both from human rights groups, who objected to the treatment of labourers, and environmentalists, who said the tower will dramatically increase Dubai's carbon footprint.

The Burj Dubai in numbers
Burj dubai comparison
Click image to enlarge

818m - estimated height
57 - number of lifts
169 - number of floors
1,044 - number of apartments
31,400 - tonnes of steel used
330,000  - cubic metres of concrete used
$1.5bn - estimated cost
95 km - the distance it can be seen from
10C - cooler at the top than the bottom
158 - floor where "highest" mosque is planned
76 - floor of "highest" swimming pool
12,000 - number of labourers who toiled
$5 - daily wage of a labourer
$3m - price of a 80th floor one-bedroom apartment in 2008

The Burj has been developed by Emaar Properties and is believed to have cost $1.5bn

Bill Baker, the building's structural engineer, said Emaar kept pushing the design of the the tapering metal-and-glass spire higher.

"We weren't sure how high we could go," said Baker, who works for Chicago-based architecture and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

"It was kind of an exploration ... a learning experience."

At their peak, some apartments in the Burj were selling for more than $1,900 per square foot, though they now can go for less than half that, according to Heather Wipperman Amiji, chief executive of Dubai real estate consultancy Investment Boutique.

Besides luxury apartments and offices, the Burj will be home to a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani.

The Burj is the centrepiece of a more than two kilometres squared development that officials hope will become a new central residential and commercial district.

It is flanked by dozens of smaller but brand-new skyscrapers and the Middle East's largest shopping mall.