QATAR : An En­chant­ing Fu­sion of Tra­di­tion and Moder­nity

This sea­far­ing na­tion was fa­mous for pearl div­ing, fish­ing and trad­ing. Buckle up for an eye-open­ing ad­ven­ture as ASIAN Geo­graphic un­cov­ers the mul­ti­di­men­sional beauty of Qatar.

Asian Geographic - - CONTENTS - BY TER­ENCE KOH

This sea­far­ing na­tion was fa­mous for pearl div­ing, fish­ing and trad­ing. Buckle up for an eye-open­ing ad­ven­ture as ASIAN Geo­graphic un­cov­ers the mul­ti­di­men­sional beauty of Qatar

In this age of In­ter­net memes, any­thing dis­tinc­tive and mem­o­rable can be re­peated ad nau­seum un­til it turns into a stereo­type or com­mon joke. Just as some peo­ple think of Sin­ga­pore as one huge shop­ping mall made up mostly of the Ma­rina Bay Sands, mere men­tion of Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries such as Qatar often con­jure up vi­sions of hot, dry deserts and camels. It couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth. Lo­cated in Western Asia on the north­east­ern coast of the Ara­bian Penin­sula, the State of Qatar is sit­u­ated on the Qatar Penin­sula, which extends out from the Ara­bian Penin­sula ap­prox­i­mately 160 kilo­me­tres north into the Ara­bian Gulf with its border with Saudi Ara­bia serv­ing as its only land link to the Ara­bian Penin­sula. Un­like its more land­locked cousins on the Ara­bian Penin­sula, Qatar is a na­tion of sea-far­ing peo­ple who counted on fish­ing, pearl­hunt­ing and trade for sus­te­nance be­fore

the dis­cov­ery of oil trans­formed the coun­try into the na­tion with the high­est per-capita in­come in the world. In fact, the sea is de­picted in the Qatar em­blem with tra­di­tional Qatari boats called dhows ap­pear­ing in it as well. Like Sin­ga­pore, Qatar is a thriv­ing me­trop­o­lis that in­fuses the moder­nity of 21st-cen­tury Western ar­chi­tec­ture with its own cul­tural tra­di­tions, from the in­tri­cate Is­lamic non-fig­u­ra­tive art found in its build­ings to tra­di­tional gar­ments, spices and shisha lounges still found in vi­brant mar­kets rich in Be­douin cul­ture.

“Qatar is a thriv­ing me­trop­o­lis that in­fuses the moder­nity of 21st-cen­tury Western ar­chi­tec­ture with its own cul­tural tra­di­tions”

1. Souq Waqif

Ex­plor­ing street mar­kets and bazaars is one of the best ways to get to know more about a coun­try’s cul­ture. One of the most au­then­tic Ara­bian mar­kets in the Gulf, Souq Waqif (Ara­bic: Sūq Wāqif, “the stand­ing mar­ket”) of­fers vis­i­tors one of the best ways to ex­pe­ri­ence shop­ping in Qatar. Home to dozens of restau­rants and shisha lounges, Souq Waqif is the place to head to if you want to buy tra­di­tional gar­ments, spices, hand­i­crafts, sou­venirs, have a good meal or just re­lax in a shisha lounge. Lo­cated in Doha, the cap­i­tal of Qatar, this vi­brant mar­ket (or souq, as it’s known lo­cally) is sit­u­ated near the city’s wa­ter­front and is al­most 100 years old. At the height of its ex­is­tence, for­eign traders and no­madic Be­douins from miles away in the desert would travel to Doha to buy and sell items such as fish, goats and wool. How­ever, as time passed and Doha de­vel­oped, the souq fell into dis­re­pair and was over­taken by shop­ping malls and newer shop­ping op­tions. In 2016, Souq Waqif was lov­ingly re­stored to its tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­tural style with fund­ing from Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Ha­mad bin Khal­i­fah al Thani and his wife Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. The de­sign­ers de­mol­ished mod­ern build­ings while in­su­lat­ing the re­main­ing ones from ex­treme desert heat with tra­di­tional meth­ods us­ing lo­cally sourced wood and bam­boo from Asia. By restor­ing old build­ings like the Bis­mil­lah Ho­tel, the Souq has been re­stored to its for­mer glory.

Five Things to Look Out For at Souq Waqif

1) Spices

Spices were as valu­able as gold in an­tiq­uity as traders from all across Asia and Europe trav­elled by sea or along the Silk Road to get their hands on spices. Here at the souq, you can find spices such as thyme, co­rian­der, mint, turmeric, chilli, cumin and many more waft­ing aro­mat­i­cally through the air.

2) Tex­tile/Tra­di­tional Gar­ments/ Car­pets From scarves and tai­lor-made robes, to beau­ti­fully em­broi­dered cloaks and tra­di­tional agals that Qatari men wear to keep their head­gear (karf­fiyeh) in place, there’s no short­age of clothes, tra­di­tional gar­ments, tex­tiles and car­pets you can buy. Hag­gling is a must and be sure to have cash as most shops don’t ac­cept credit cards.

3) Gold All that glit­ters is gold. Whether it’s di­a­monds, pearls, gold or other pre­cious stones you’re in­ter­ested in, there is a maze of lo­cal shops in the Gold Souq, just off the main area of Souq Waqif, spe­cial­is­ing in lo­cal and im­ported jew­ellery. All gold jew­ellery sold in Qatar has a govern­ment stamp en­sur­ing its pu­rity. Most items are priced by weight and the price of gold that day.

4) Food/Ku­nafeh Get a tra­di­tional crepe from one of the skil­ful lady street ven­dors. Avail­able in sweet or savoury va­ri­eties, it’s a great snack on the go. If you’re in­ter­ested in a two-level restau­rant of­fer­ing the tasti­est Ara­bic del­i­ca­cies from Syria and the Le­vant, head to Da­m­asca One (Mon–Thu, Sat 9am–1am, Fri 1–11pm). Those who love Ira­nian food can eat un­der beau­ti­ful chan­de­liers at Shebestan Palace (Sat–Thu noon–mid­night,

Fri 1pm–1am) and lovers of the tajine

should head to the many roof ter­races to try the delectable Moroc­can cui­sine. A must-eat is the ku­nafeh – a delectable Turk­ish dessert made of tiny baked strands of ver­mi­celli (from phyllo or semolina flour) like a large pan­cake­sized dragon beard candy, or putu mayam, with pis­ta­chios lay­ered on top, cheese in be­tween and glo­ri­ous honey soaked through the crispy noo­dle pas­try. We rec­om­mend Al Aker (9am– 12am ev­ery day) for one of the best ku­nafeh around.

5) Buy Sou­venirs at Bar­gain Prices What’s a va­ca­tion with­out some bar­gain hunt­ing for cheap sou­venirs? From in­tri­cate hand­i­crafts, leather items and beau­ti­ful lamps to clas­sic sou­venirs such as Arab dal­lah (cof­fee pots), there’s lots on of­fer at Souq Waqif.

“Hag­gling is a must and be sure to have cash as most shops don’t ac­cept credit cards.”

2. Cul­tural Vil­lage of Katara

One of the “must-see” at­trac­tions in Qatar, the Cul­tural Vil­lage of Katara was con­structed to serve as the bea­con of Qatar’s art and cul­ture scene. The largest and most mul­ti­di­men­sional cul­tural project in Qatar, the Katara Cul­tural Vil­lage has me­an­der­ing pas­sages, wa­ter­ways and spa­ces for artists, film­mak­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers. Lo­cated be­tween Doha’s cen­tral West Bay Area and The Pearl, Qatar’s ar­ti­fi­cial is­land span­ning four square kilo­me­tres, the Katara trans­ports vis­i­tors to the golden age of Qatar’s past from the mo­ment you en­ter its grounds. From the beau­ti­ful plants and lawn, and the in­tri­cate doors and win­dow frames on its short build­ings to the Greek-in­spired open-air am­phithe­atre with dis­tinc­tively tra­di­tional Ara­bian fea­tures, the Katara Cul­tural Vil­lage trans­ports you to a calmer state of mind. To­tally free of charge, Katara has dozens of gal­leries and venues host­ing the creative works of lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional artists, in­clud­ing an opera house, art stu­dios, drama the­atres and a cin­ema for film screen­ings. It also hosts sev­eral trade­mark events ev­ery year in­clud­ing an an­nual Euro­pean Jazz Fes­ti­val, the Tra­di­tional Dhow Fes­ti­val in Novem­ber show­cas­ing Qatar’s

rich mar­itime her­itage and folk­loric per­for­mance as well. The vil­lage is named af­ter “Catara”, the first and most an­cient name des­ig­nated for the Qatar Penin­sula in geo­graphic and his­tor­i­cal maps found in 150 AD. The Qatar govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to re­vive the use of Qatar’s olden name is to “up­hold its con­nec­tion to its an­cient her­itage and to hon­our Qatar’s distin­guished po­si­tion since the dawn of his­tory”. Be­sides the Val­ley and Chil­dren’s Mall, the 1.5-kilo­me­tre Katara Beach also of­fers a wide va­ri­ety of water sports in­clud­ing water ski­ing, wake­board­ing, knee­board­ing, para­sail­ing, boat rides, ca­noe­ing, fish­ing and kayak­ing. There are also dhow rides from 5pm to 10pm daily at the beach. Vis­i­tors need to pay to ac­cess the beaches. How­ever, Beach 4 is free for fam­i­lies from Thurs­day to Satur­day.

3. Sand Dune Bash­ing at Khor Al Adaid

One of the perks of go­ing to a coun­try with a desert is the abil­ity to go dune bash­ing. Speed­ing up and down sand dunes in a sports util­ity ve­hi­cle is prob­a­bly the most ex­cit­ing and unique ex­pe­ri­ence you can have in Qatar. Known as the “In­land Sea”, Khor Al Adaid is a ma­jor nat­u­ral at­trac­tion lo­cated near the border with Saudi Ara­bia. A UNESCO-recog­nised nat­u­ral re­serve with its own ecosys­tem, Khor Al Adaid is es­sen­tially a creek flanked by sil­very cres­cents of sand (or “barchan” in Ara­bic), and as such, it is one of the few places in the world where the sea en­croaches deep into the heart of the desert. You can spend a night in a tent here, or just go for a half day or full day of dune bash­ing in a dune buggy or on a quad bike, or try your hand at sand­board­ing.

“The ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign of the Mu­seum of Is­lamic Art draws much in­flu­ence from an­cient Is­lamic ar­chi­tec­ture.”

4. Mu­seum of Is­lamic Art Con­sid­ered the most im­por­tant cul­tural land­mark in Qatar, the Mu­seum of Is­lamic Art show­cases Is­lamic art from three con­ti­nents over a pe­riod of 1,400 years. De­signed by iconic Pritzker Prize-win­ning ar­chi­tect, the late I.M. Pei, the ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign of the Musuem of Is­lamic Art draws much in­flu­ence from an­cient Is­lamic ar­chi­tec­ture, no­tably the Ibn Tu­lun Mosque in Cairo. The mu­seum was built on a re­claimed is­land as Pei sug­gested that it be built on a stand­alone is­land so that no new build­ings would ob­struct it. Lo­cated just off the Doha Cor­niche, the wa­ter­front prom­e­nade along Doha Bay, the mu­seum was built to pre­serve Qatar’s deep her­itage as it con­tin­ues to evolve as an ur­ban re­gional me­trop­o­lis at the fore­front of global trends. An un­par­al­leled glimpse into Qatar’s his­tory and cul­ture, the mu­seum boasts an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of ce­ram­ics, glass, met­al­work, manuscript­s and tex­tiles dat­ing back to the sev­enth cen­tury. Hous­ing both per­ma­nent and tem­po­rary gal­leries, the mu­seum also of­fers ac­tiv­i­ties for young adults such as Be­hind-The-Scenes tours, Thurs­day Late Tours and work­shops for cre­at­ing your own art­works and even a Ma­jlis Book Club (avail­able in Ara­bic and English) dis­cussing books about Is­lamic Art, Mu­se­ums or Ara­bic His­tory.

5. Na­tional Mu­seum of Qatar

Housed in a new ar­chi­tec­tural mas­ter­piece by Jean Nou­vel, the Na­tional Mu­seum of Qatar (NMoQ) tells the story of Qatar through a 1.5 kilo­me­tre cir­cuit fea­tur­ing 11 per­ma­nent gal­leries. The gal­leries take vis­i­tors from the for­ma­tion of the Qatar Pen­in­ula mil­lions of years ago to the na­tion’s ex­cit­ing and di­verse present through a spe­cial com­bi­na­tion of ar­chi­tec­tural space, mu­sic, po­etry, oral his­to­ries, evoca­tive aro­mas, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and her­itage ob­jects, com­mis­sioned art­works, mon­u­men­tally-scaled art films, and more.

More than 52,000 square me­tres in size, the NMoQ show­cases the re­stored his­toric Palace of Sheike Ab­dul­lah bin Jas­sim Al Thani (18801957), son of the founder of mod­ern Qatar, as its cen­tre­piece.

The build­ing’s de­sign was in­spired by the “desert rose”, a flower-like for­ma­tion that oc­curs nat­u­rally in the Gulf re­gion when min­er­als crys­tallise in the crumbly soil just be­low the sur­face of a shal­low salt basin. The desert rose be­came the model for the mu­seum’s com­plex struc­ture of large in­ter­lock­ing disks of dif­fer­ent di­am­e­ters and cur­va­tures which sur­round the his­toric palace like a neck­lace. The can­tilevered disks, which pro­vide nat­u­ral shade, are among the el­e­ments of the de­sign that have en­abled NMoQ to be­come the first mu­seum to re­ceive both LEED Gold cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and a four-star sus­tain­ability rat­ing from the Global Sus­tain­ability As­sess­ment Sys­tem.

6. Zubarah Fort

If you love Raiders of the Lost Ark, you have to visit Zubarah Fort and Al Zubarah town. Re­cently de­clared a UNESCO World Her­itage site, the walled coastal town of Al Zubarah was a pearling and trad­ing cen­tre in the late 18th and early 19th cen­tury. Mostly de­stroyed in 1811, it was aban­doned in the mid-20th cen­tury and was grad­u­ally buried by sand­storms. Today, Al Zubarah town has been turned into an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site. It is one of the largest and best pre­served ex­am­ples of a 18th–19th cen­tury mer­chant town in the Ara­bian Gulf. The town is also home to Zubarah Fort, which was originally built in 1938 by Sheikh Ab­dul­lah bin Jas­sim Al Thani as a coast guard station. Lo­cated on the north­west­ern coast of the Qatar Penin­sula in the Mad­i­nat ash Shamal mu­nic­i­pal­ity, about 100 kilo­me­tres from Doha, Zubarah Fort, which was named af­ter the town, has been trans­formed into a mu­seum to dis­play find­ings in the nearby Al Zubarah ar­chae­o­log­i­cal area.

Flanked by mas­sive one-me­tre thick walls on each side with large cir­cu­lar tow­ers on three of its four cor­ners, the eight sol­diers’ quar­ters on the ground floor of the fort now house an ex­hi­bi­tion of ex­quis­ite pot­tery and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal find­ings from

Al Zubarah town.

With the re­mains of the town com­pris­ing palaces, mosques, streets, court­yard houses, fish­er­men’s huts and more, Zubarah Fort and Al Zubarah town of­fer vis­i­tors an amaz­ing glimpse into the early de­vel­op­ment of Qatar and pro­vide once-in-a-life­time photo op­por­tu­ni­ties. ag


Novem­ber to early April when it’s cooler. The cooler tem­per­a­tures al­low for sight­see­ing and out­door ac­tiv­i­ties across the coun­try and is con­sid­ered peak sea­son in Qatar. Avoid June to Septem­ber when tem­per­a­tures are very hot with min­i­mum rain­fall. Note that the work­ing week in Qatar is from Sun­day to Thurs­day with Fri­day and Satur­day be­ing weekly hol­i­days.


Doha, Qatar


There are daily flights con­nect­ing Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia and Hong Kong to Qatar di­rectly via the award-win­ning Qatar Air­ways. Qatar Air­ways cov­ers more than 140 des­ti­na­tions world­wide in­clud­ing the Mid­dle East, Europe, Africa, Asia, Aus­trala­sia and North and South Amer­ica. Ha­mad In­ter­na­tional Air­port is lo­cated just south of Doha. Taxi trans­fer time to the city cen­tre is about 30 min­utes.

MAIN Souq Waqif is one of the most au­then­tic Ara­bian mar­kets


BOT­TOM Richard Serra’s sculp­ture “East-West/ West-East” – a set of four stand­ing steel plates – in Zekreet

ABOVE At the Gold Souq within Souq Waqif, there are nu­mer­ous shops sell­ing im­ported and lo­cal jew­ellery

LEFT Vis­i­tors can take dhow rides from 5pm to 10pm at Katara Beach


MAIN The Mu­seum of Is­lamic Art is built on a re­claimed is­land

BE­LOW The Na­tional Mu­seum of Qatar is com­prised of 11 gal­leries

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