Almost everybody in Qatar lives in Doha, the capital and quite an attractive city. Its skyline of high rise modern buildings, seen from the Corniche at the opposite side of the bay that forms Doha’s natural harbour, is very impressive, yet, a lot less ostentatious than in many other comparable cities; it is just no só high, not só big. Somehow, Doha has retained a bit of a provincial atmosphere – and that is meant as a compliment! In some of the older neighbourhoods – nothing is really old, of course – narrow streets are blocked by the cars of residents doing a bit of shopping in the neighbourhood shops – there are neighbourhood shops.
The Souq Waqif is nicely restored, tastefully, too, yet, has not been turned exclusively into a designer outlet; local business seems to be thriving, and at the end of the day it is busy with shoppers. Qatari’s are checking out the falcons, for instance, in the many falcon shops – keeping falcons, and hunting with them, is a tradition, here. Other sections of the souq specialize in gold, or copper, or handicrafts. A large section is devoted to cloths and material. One corner is for the Royal stables. And on the other side are all the restaurants, an international range from Lebanese to Italian to Indian to an Argentinian steakhouse. In October, when we visited, the temperature was excellent for eating outside, on the pavement, a great way of observing the diverse people passing by. Many men in white, many women in black, but as much, if not more, Western dress as well as Indian cloths.
That is not to say there is no extravagant building. Further north, on the other side of the bay, is The Pearl, an artificial island with a Marina and quite a lot of expensive accommodation. You wonder why, in an empty desert country, anybody would want to build an artificial island, which has only one, permanently traffic-jammed, connection with the main land. And there is the Katara Complex, with designer shops, more restaurants and a modern, marble, amphitheatre which is seldom being used. But, you know, if you have money, you need to show it.
Which is the purpose of Lusail City, a neighbourhood some 20 kms north of Doha, which is being created out of nothing. The town, which will ultimately be home to a quarter of a million people, will have more artificial islands, more shopping malls, more expensive residential areas, more leisure facilities and more marinas, as well as the, literally iconic, Lusail Iconic Stadium, the showcase stadium for the FIFA World Cup of 2022. Ludicrous, and that’s all I will say about it.
There are quite a number of other tourist sites in Doha. Pre-eminent amongst them is the Museum of Islamic Art, housed in a beautiful modern, cubist building. Lack of time prevented us from inspecting the collection, but we did have a look inside, in the central hall, which is equally impressive. Another museum, the Qatar National Museum, is still being built, in the form of a desert sand-rose; anybody’s guess when this will finally be completed and opened.
Several ‘old’ buildings are reputed to be in or near Doha, too, but we haven’t yet visited them – reason to come back and try to find them (which may not be that straight forward). There is the 19th C Doha Fort, apparently disastrously restored in the 1970s, near the Souq Waqif. The same age Umm Salal Muhammad Fort, and the early 20th C Barzan Towers, watch towers that also served to keep an eye on pearl divers, and assess the position of the moon, a key element in the Islamic calendar, are north of the city. Another source mentions the Heritage House, a traditional Qatari house which used to be the ethnographic museum, and may be the same as the Wind Tower House, known for its badghir, or barjeel in Arabic, a square tower designed to capture the faintest of breezes and transport those down into the house to provide cooling – that was before the air conditioner was invented.
and there is more, outside Doha