Explore Qatar's heritage by visiting these archaeological wonders
Time Out Doha staff
October 30, 2013 12:41 PM
Did you know that the Qatar Museums Authority’s heritage and conservation department have around 5,000 heritage sites from Qatar on their database? They’re constantly working to preserve and protect the country’s history so these are a few of their recommended must-see spots *Note that many of these sites are protected by QMA and are fenced off for the time being as archaeologists excavate. However, that doesn’t stop them from being a fascinating place to visit.
Al Zubarah archaeological site Where? 100 kilometres northwest of Doha How long? Approximately 90 minutes
This is Qatar’s first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest and best preserved examples of an 18th to 19th century traditional pearl fishing and merchant town in the entire Gulf region. Al Zubarah, which is most famous for its fort, is a now-abandoned coastal town that was founded in the mid-18th century. It is one of Qatar’s biggest success stories as it quickly developed into a centre for pearling and international trade, soon becoming the country’s largest and most important settlement. Unfortunately, a few other Gulf powers noticed its achievements and so attacked the town. It eventually burned to the ground in 1811 and never fully recovered. Settlers then abandoned it by the mid-20th century.
Today, the 60 hectare site with remains of houses, mosques, large fortified buildings and a market, as well as of course the notable fort, is being opened up to the public with visitor’s centres to be established and the story of Al Zubarah being shared.
Barzan Towers Where? Umm Salal Mohammed village in the surburbs of Doha How long? Up to 30 minutes Built way back in 1910 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Jassim al-Thani, the founder of Umm Salal Mohammed village, these towers are one of Qatar’s most notable monuments and have recently been restored. Barzan means ‘the high place’ – aptly named as the towers are 16 metres high. The theory goes that they were originally used as a watchtower to monitor the movement of ships and as an observatory to see the moon (which is important in Islamic countries to keep track of the Arabic calendar). Photo credit: Domagoj Cerovac
Al Jassasiya Where? North east of Doha How long? Approximately 90 minutes
This site, which features low limestone hills know as jebel, is where the greatest number of rock carvings can be found in Qatar. Rock carvings, also known as petroglyphs, can be found all over the coast of Qatar and on Bahrain’s Al Hawar Island and depict objects such as rows, rosettes, ships, fire pits and foot prints. Overall, in this location, there are 874 carvings that were discovered in 1974, reports QMA.
Although it was originally believed that the earliest of the carvings date back to the Neolithic period, new findings suggest that they are not more than a few hundred years old. They are still well worth a look and it is believed the cup marks were used to play ancient board games.
Murwab archaeological site Where? Far north of Qatar How long? Up to 90 minutes
Murwab dates back to the 9th to 11th century and is the only large settlement in Qatar that is not located on the coast. The town used to be home to some 250 houses (which are in groups around the settlement), a fort and two mosques. Excavations have also revealed clusters of tombs scattered around the various sections of houses.
The fort is particularly worth checking out as it is known to be the oldest discovered fort in the country.
Jazirat bin Ghanam Where? Al Khor, 40 kilometres north of Doha How long? Around 30 minutes
Also known as Purple Island, Jazirat bin Ghanam is both a beautiful and fascinating site to visit. You get there by crossing a causeway which runs through the Al Khor mangroves (with a few breaks in between). It is known as Purple Island as, according to excavators, the site was used during the Bronze Age as a dye production site. This is because there is a type of shellfish known as thais savigny that lives under rocks and produces a bright red dye when in contact with an enzyme and light. If findings are correct then this would make it the only documented dye production site in the Arabian Gulf and the only one in the Mediterranean where the dye was usually produced.
Bir Zikrit or Ras Brouq Where? West coast of Qatar, north of Dukhan How long? Around 100 minutes
The unusual landscape of white cliffs sculpted into strange shapes makes this site a must-visit. Interestingly, this part of Qatar never saw permanent housing built yet the remains of ancient inhabitants have been found. Examples of flint tools were seen from semi-nomadic people who lived there and used to hunt, fish, herd sheep and cattle, and gather foods from the earth. One of the other rare proofs of existence is the fort in Bir Zikrit, which also happens to be one of the only forts in the south-west. The story goes that it was built between 1809 and 1812 and around its remains, smalls houses with date-presses have been discovered.
Al Khor towers Where? Al Khor, 40 kilometres north of Doha How long? Approximately 30 minutes
Along the corniche of the small town of Al Khor are three towers, each built in 1900 and measuring four metres in diameter. They were made using mud and local stone, while the ceilings were built of danshal wood beams from Zanzibar, Africa overlaid with bamboo and woven cane mat. The towers were supposedly constructed for surveillance of the town and as a defensive building as the walls are 60 centimetres thick. Openings can also be seen in the eight-metre high towers, which allowed guards to throw stones in times of attack.
Al Thakhira Mosque Where? Eastern coast of Qatar, north of Al Khor How long? Approximately 45 minutes
In the village of Al Thakhira there is an old mosque which is said to be one of the best examples of Islamic architecture in the country from the 19th century. It’s an isolated building, close to the sea and mangroves, which has been restored. The mosque has a square shape and in it you’ll find an open rectangular courtyard, prayer rooms and a minaret which can be reached via a spiral-shaped staircase from the courtyard.
Al Jumail village Where? North west coast of Qatar, not far from Al Zubarah How long? Approximately 90 minutes
This small traditional but ruined village was at one time inhabited by the Al Kubaisi family and apparently remains to this day a great weekend escape for Qataris who like to be close to an area that represents their heritage and origins of ancestors.
Situated right on the coast, the village which dates back to the late 19th century features important traditional buildings, houses and a mosque in varying degrees of ruin.
Arakiyat fort Where? North west How long? Around 60 minutes On the road between Al Zubarah and Madinat Al Shamal, Arakiyat fort is one of several desert forts that date back to the 18th century. It is also one of the few that were renovated in the 1980s yet it still closely resembles the original building and those remains can still be seen in the courtyard.
Arakiyat means ‘well’ in Arabic and so it is believed that the fort was initially built to protect sources of water. This is supported by the fact that there is a freshwater well in the fort and the scattered remains of a village close by.
Al Thaqab fort Where? North west of Doha, around 10 kilometres from Al Zubarah How long? Approximately 120 minutes This fort, which was renovated in the 1980s, is believed to date back to the 19th century although the houses surrounding it suggest it might be older. Unfortunately the renovation was not done authentically or carefully enough, though that doesn’t stop it from being a great place to see.
The name Thaqab means ‘the water in the bottom of the valley after the rain’ although some people believe it might mean a small stream of water at the foot of the mountain, which is hidden from the sun and so always cool. Towards the west of the fort, there is a deep well that is still in use where water is pumped rather than hauled up in buckets. This represents an old tradition that is kept alive to this day.
It’s a rectangular fort made of rough blocks and limestone with rooms for storing and processing dates, and it was typically used by villagers to store food and water in case they were attacked.