Journey through Qatar heritage sites, abandoned towns, and little-known fishing villages that are being restored in tune to a modern vision
Awarded Unesco world heritage status in 2013, the archaeological site of Al Zubarah lies on the country’s northwest coast 85km from Doha. As one of the best-preserved examples of an 18th-19th-century trading and pearl fishing town in the Gulf region, the site is an outstanding witness to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Gulf Arabs. Al Zubarah includes three major geographies – the archaeological remains of the town dating back to the 1760s, the settlement of Qal’at Murair, and Al Zubarah Fort built in 1938 to protect the inland well of the city. Qatar Museums is currently working to protect the fort against the harsh desert and coastal conditions to preserve it for the next generations.
Jumail or ‘jameel’ – meaning beautiful in Arabic – is a now- abandoned coastal fishing village located in the northeast of Qatar in the municipality of Al Shamal. Founded in the 19th century and inhabited well into the 20th century, people began to move out following the economic boom brought about by the petroleum and gas industry, preferring to be in the main cities. The village comprises a set of important traditional buildings, including a small mosque with its minaret still intact. Although the area is fenced off as an archaeological site, visits are still possible to the Jumail fishing village, now referred to as ‘the ghost town of Qatar’, an illustration of both the country’s rich heritage and its contemporary vision.
Abandoned village Ain Mohammed was named after a local well – Ain refers to a natural source of water in Arabic, while Mohammed was the name of the local who built the well that supplied water to the village. In 1908, JG Lorimer recorded Ain Mohammed as being located “two miles north-east of Zubarah.” He makes note of a masonry well, three fathoms deep, yielding indifferent water, and a ruined fort. This original settlement is now fully restored, with environmental standards applied in the village rehabilitation project under the supervision of Qatar Museums.
Near the Dukhan region, Zekreet Fort Qatar is another spot showcasing the 18th- century opulence of Qatari architecture. Debris of madabes (rooms used in the production of a traditional date-based food called ‘debis’) can be found on the coastal side of the fort, which sits pretty alongside other spots such as Zekreet Beach, Umbrella Rock Mountain, and the abandoned film set known as Film City. A must- see spectacle in Zekreet is the East-West/West-East art installation by Richard Serra, standing tall in the Qatari desert with its 14-meter-high steel plates spread out over a kilometer.
Originally published in the November 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia