Qatar is a land that is steeped in ancient traditions, and a rich heritage, that have been passed down through generations and become part of its modernity and contemporary vision. Its history may date back just a few hundred years, but it has left a mark, and you can see its richness dotted around the country in the form of markets, forts, villages, and other symbols.
Let us take you on a journey through Qatar's history and take you back in time so you can understand what it is that makes Qatar the great country it is today!
Souq Waqif (which means the 'standing market' in Arabic) was established approximately a century ago when it’s humble beginnings were marked by Bedouins and locals who used to gather on both sides of the riverbed - Wadi Msheireb – and stand the whole day at makeshift stalls to sell their goods like spices, fish, sugar, coal, wood, clothes, livestock and much more. Hence, the name ‘standing market’.
At the time, the Souq was located next to the shore of the Arabian Sea so traders in boats could have access to the market and sell their products, along with those that came on camel. However, today, land reclamation, and the renovation and refurbishment of the area in 2006 (after a fire destroyed much of the Souq in 2003) with the purpose of preserving its architectural and historical identity, has pushed the market area back from the sea, and the Corniche Street and a park separate them from each other. Oh, and Wadi Msheireb is now a road and the area houses Msheireb Museums and hotels.
The present Souq remains on the site of the old Souq site, but some things have changed. Many people believe, though, that this is one of the few remaining authentic and historic places in Qatar.
Today, Souq Waqif sells many of the same Middle Eastern products with some new things added to the mix: saffron, traditional Qatari spices, nuts, perfumes, household items, traditional Qatari clothing, ready-to-wear clothes, fabrics, shoes, toys, sweets, souvenirs, and so much more.
Souq Waqif is a must-visit place and has a vibrancy that is unmatched and an ambience that will keep you coming back again and again. And, as you stroll through its twisting cobbled alleyways, you will get the same authentic feel of architecture of simpler times in Qatar's history as you marvel at the Souq’s mud-rendered shops with wooden doors and exposed wooden beams, rich heritage and culture, and the way commerce was conducted in the yesteryears.
Commerce and trade are not the only things Souq Waqif is famous for! When you’re tired and want a bite to eat, take a seat at one of the many local restaurants and enjoy the Qatari cuisine on offer, but if you’re looking for something else to soothe your hunger and satisfy your taste buds, there are many other international cuisines on offer, too.
The Souq also boasts of a traditional falcon’s market, horse and camel stables and an art gallery, and throughout the year, you can enjoy cultural shows and festivals that add to the overall appeal of this beautiful market that is bound to take you back in time!
Location: Google Maps Link
Timings (Souq Waqif): 24/7, although many shops close late at night
Timings (shops): 7 days a week (10 am-12 Midday; 4 pm – 10 pm)
Timings (eateries): Timings may differ, but most are open throughout the day; while some are open 24/7
Timings (Souq Waqif Information and Tourism Centre): 7 days a week (7:30 am – 9:30 pm)
Msheireb Museums is situated in the very heart of the city, Doha’s old downtown area, and is made up of four houses where Qatar’s rich traditions and cultural heritage have been preserved to highlight Qatar’s history and how the country grew from its humble beginnings to one of the richest countries on the planet. These four traditional courtyard houses which date back to the first decade of the 20th century, have been restored and conserved by renowned local as well as international architects and professionals to ensure the old memories of Qatar are not lost. Each of the four houses showcases Qatar’s traditional community-based lifestyle but each house has a different story to tell and each story comes to life using the latest technology and old natural resources.
The four heritage houses that make up the Msheireb Museums have their own distinct and different stories and each one will take you back in time.
The Bin Jelmood house, named after its former owner Mohammed Jelmood reflects on and provides an insight into slavery and how, when Islam arrived, it encouraged the human treatment of slaves and eventually, the abolishment of slavery. This house shares the story of slavery in old Qatar, how it was abolished and ends with an exhibit on how the Qatari government is striving to fight against human trafficking and exploitation.
The Radwani House was built in the 1920s and belonged to Ali Akbar Radwani. It is located in the oldest part of Doha: Msheireb and Al Jasrah. Archaeologists have uncovered an assortment of important artefacts and items during the excavation of the area that provide details of how daily life in Qatar was once conducted.
This house tells the story of how a traditional Qatari family lived in the olden days and how they evolved when oil became part of Qatar’s economy and electricity arrived in the country. The changes in the lifestyle are showcased, as well as how family life transformed when the family became affluent.
Company House is the location of Qatar’s first oil company and tells the story of those workers - that laid the foundation of Qatar’s, now booming, petroleum industry - and also laboured for their families. It is these workers who were responsible for the transformation of Qatar into a modern, oil-rich country.
The exhibits at this house are interactive and engaging. They highlight the stories of the workers who helped shape Qatar’s economy while struggling to look after their families, as well as, prominent figures of those early oil discovery days through first-hand accounts.
The Mohammed Bin Jassim House tells the story of Qatar’s challenge to strike a balance between the sophisticated requirements of contemporary living and the responsibility to preserve local heritage and culture. It was built by the son of the founder of modern Qatar Sheikh Mohammed Bin Jassim Al Thani and showcases the past, the present and the sustainable aspect on which Msheireb Downtown Doha is based.
The house highlights Msheireb’s journey from the past to the present by recalling memories of its past, showcasing its present and engaging visitors in the plans for the future. Listen to first-hand accounts of former residents of this downtown area as they talk about life in the narrow ‘sikka’ alleyways that developed with time as houses were constructed on both sides of these alleyways, how they converged onto an open-air town square called a ‘baraha’ and how Msheireb is the area where Qatar’s first bank, first pharmacy, first bank and first cafes opened.
Another feature of this heritage house is the Echo Memory Art Project which uses artefacts that were uncovered during excavations by archaeologists in the area.
Location: Google Maps Link
Timings: Monday – Thursday: 9 am - 5 pm; Friday: 3 pm - 9 pm; Saturday: 9 am - 5 pm; Sunday: Closed
Tel: +974 400 65555 / 800 3642 / 4404 0222
E-mail: [email protected]
Al Zubarah Fort, nestled in the north-western area of Qatar, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the Arab region’s most well-preserved examples of a settlement from the 18th to 19th century.
According to UNESCO:
“Al Zubarah Fort bears a unique testimony to the human interaction with both the sea and the harsh desert environment of the region. Pearl divers’ weights, imported ceramics, depictions of dhows, fish traps, wells and agricultural activity show how the town’s development was driven by trade and commerce, and how closely the town’s inhabitants were connected with the sea and their desert hinterland.”
The Al Zubarah Fort is what remains of Al Zubarah that, once upon a time, was a walled coastal town complete with residential palaces and houses, markets, industrial areas and mosques. At the time, this bustling town was considered the Arab region’s most important centre for pearl diving well as an integral trade port and had links as far as the Indian Ocean. Al Zubarah is connected to the settlement of Qal’at Murair, which was fortified to protect the city’s inland wells.
Al Zubarah Fort was built in 1938 on the orders of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani to guard and protect the north-west coastal area of Qatar’s north-west coast and functioned as a complex defence system controlling the sea and the freshwater resources of the region. According to Qatar Museums, the fort’s design recalls earlier features common in Arab and Gulf fortification architecture including pointed crenellations, a traditional type of roof construction, a combination of both round and square corner towers, sloping walls and a square ground plan. Until 1986, the Al Zubarah Fort was used as a military and police post and an extension was added on the southern wall of the building, but eventually the town of Al Zubarah was abandoned in the 20th century.
Today, Al Zubarah Fort is Qatar’s biggest historical sites, serves as a museum, visitor centre and heritage attraction, and showcases information about the earlier town of Al Zubarah and surrounding environment. Unusually, the structure consists of three circular towers and a rectangular tower. It also has many rooms made up of cement or compressed mud. These rooms showcase beautiful artwork and valuable archaeological findings that will transport you to a time that's long gone by, but not forgotten.
Location: Google Maps Link
Timings: 7 days a week: 8 am - 5 pm
Al Jumail which is derived from the Arabic word 'jameel' meaning beautiful is the name of this once prospering pearl diving and fishing village in the desert of Qatar and actually refers to the towering trees you find in and around the area. The now abandoned Al Jumail Fishing Village is every close to the Al Zubarah Fort. Many people call it a ghost town, and that is what it has become. Once upon a time though, around the 19th century, this village was inhabited by pearl divers and fishermen who took advantage of the nearby sea to earn a living.
The houses that make up the village and other structures were built of compressed mud, coral rock and limestock. The walls were think so the heat would stay out. Though many of them are in ruins now, the mosque with its minaret still stands tall and proud and the ground around the buildings are scattered with bits of pottery, beads and other remnants from times of old.
It is thought that, in the 20th century, around the 1970s, when Qatar became oil rich, the villagers started to leave as their trade suffered. With time, everyone left and what remains now is a reminder of a past that once was.
Zekreet, derived from ‘zikra’, an Arabic word, means ‘memories' when translated into English, and that’s exactly what the north-western village of Qatar towards Dukhan brings back when you visit.
It’s believed that Zekreet village was full of life from the late 18th to the early 19th centuries, which is around the same time that Al Zubarah was a bustling centre of trade. That's probably when the Zekreet Fort was constructed, but there is little information of the time frame in which it was built.
In the 1940s, Zekreet became an important location when oil was discovered and a harbour for oil equipment was constructed in the area till Msaieed and Dukhan become the main hub in the area for the oil and gas industry, and people slowly and gradually started to leave . Today, the area is more or less deserted and people have moved on to other locations in search of a better life, with the exception of the ancient ruins from hundreds of years ago that include the Zekreet Fort and remains of the old settlements.
The layout of Zekreet Fort is distinct and you can clearly see it’s two separate phases of construction. The original Fort was made up of a square and there were no towers. The towers were added in its construction’s second phase where the four corners of the fort are located. The towers were never completed; the reason is unknown. On the coastal side of the fort, you can find remnants of the ‘madabes; these are rooms that were once used in the production of ‘debis’ which is a traditional date-based food.
One thing is for sure: Zekreet Fort and its surrounding area will take those who visit it, back in time.
Location: Google Maps Link
Though Film City, also known as 'TV City' or 'Mystery Village' is not a historical site in Qatar, it sure will take you back in time as it showcases how a village from earlier times in Qatar’s history would probably have looked like. And, that’s why we’re including it in this list!
Film City is actually a recreation of a traditional Bedouin village of the Gulf region and rests deserted behind a canyon in the desert area of the Zekreet, or Brouq, peninsula, and is not too far from the Arabian Sea.
The buildings in this village are a mixture of small rooms, towers, staircases, walls, wooden doors and poles, and you can go in and out of them as you please. Everything is mud-rendered and the whole area feels surreal.
Why was this village built? Well, the more people you ask, the more the rumours! Some say it was built as a set for a Hollywood movie, some say an Arabic movie 'Eyaal Al Theeb (Sons of the Wolf), was shot in this location and others say it was used in a FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar promotional video.
Whatever the reason for its construction, one thing is for sure - when you visit this little Qatari village-like location, you will be mesmerised and feel that you've gone back in time.
Location: Google Maps Link
Have you visited any of these spots? Did any of them take you back in time? Do let us know your thoughts. Like and share the article - it keeps us going!
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