Posted 12th of September 2017

The Big Five: Qatari Cultural Spots

Words by Tom Stephenson

With the country developing at such an alarming rate, many can’t see past the glitz and glamour of Downtown Doha, taking the five-star luxury and air-conditioned accommodation for granted. The towering skyscrapers of West Bay weren’t always there, and not too long ago the local economy was dependent on pearl diving. However, just a short trip out of town will provide you with a little insight into the way life used to be, tapping into the rich heritage of the amazing place we call home.

Perhaps Qatar’s most famous historical landmark. Since being recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, Al Zubarah Fort is now more popular than ever. Back in the 18th Century, the coastal settlement of Zubarah was a thriving pearling town and buzzing trade port. Acting as a centre for both regional and global trade, many ships would stop off whilst travelling to and from neighbouring countries. Although views of the outer wall steal the show, the fort is enriched with more historical charm than meets the eye. Remains of mosques, marketplaces and residential palaces have been found, outlining how lively the area once was. Housed within the Fort itself is a selection of pottery and archaeological relics that give even further insight into Zubarah’s history.

If you’re planning a visit, make sure to check the opening hours. A trip so far out of town would be wasted if you arrived between 1 pm – 4 pm. Load up on snacks for the road and don’t forget to bring plenty of water, we’ve all been caught out in the heat before and there’s little escape once you arrive.

Built in the late 19th Century, Barzan Towers were once used to protect the radwat, a valley that collected precious rainwater following a downpour. Aside from guarding the invaluable water sources, the towers were also used to examine the moon in the run up to Ramadan. As the holy month is based on the Lunar cycle, two observers would climb to the top of the towers to inspect the moon, agreeing when the crescent appeared to mark the start of the 30 days fast. Barzan, meaning 'high place' in Arabic, is an apt description for the structure. The two columns stand over 50 feet tall with wide supporting buttresses at the base. Located 20km North of Doha the fort is open 24 hours a day, therefore you can visit at any time, day or night.

Unlike some of Qatar’s other historical landmarks, there are independent supermarkets relatively close by, meaning that there’s no need to pack the car full of refreshments before setting off!

Found on Qatar’s North-East coast, Al Jassasiya is just one of the many places where rock carvings, or ‘petroglyphs’, can be found. A total of 874 individual carved figures were found in 1957, allowing mankind to peer back in time before Qatar was one of the world’s most talked about nations. Many believe that the clearly visible rows and rosettes were part of an ancient board game. Pictures of animals and footprints tell the tale of a time lost in the pages of history, ageing back 2500 years to the bronze age. Despite being an hour’s journey from the capital, Al Jassasiya is definitely worth a visit if you’re looking to take a step back in time and come into contact with Qatar’s rich and ancient history.

Resurrected in 2006, Souq Waqif has become the beating heart of Doha. A much-loved bazaar that sees both locals and tourists alike flock to its winding alleys in search of a sensory overload. The Souq clings to Qatari heritage like nowhere else in the city, allowing for its visitors to peer into the past and experience a once forgotten time. Souq Waqif, meaning Standing Market, dates back more than a century, and chimes of an age when Bedouins would travel to the area to trade in fish, goats and wool. With mud-rendered buildings, exposed wooden beams and original charm, it’s easy to forget that you’re still in the centre of one of the world’s richest cities.

Although not necessarily focussed on local history, The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) represents over 14 centuries of mind-blowing artwork from all corners of the Islamic world. The collection is showcased as a journey through time, countries, and cultures, with the oldest pieces dating back to the 9th century. Visitors can wander through the unique collection of Islamic artefacts in both the permanent and temporary galleries, or visit the library, a gift shop, or café. Make sure you block an entire day out on your calendar so you don’t miss anything. Once you’re finished exploring the inside, head out onto the Museum’s rear courtyard, standing high above the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf. The square offers unparalleled views of West Bay both during the day and after sunset, fantastic for a snap or two.