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Barely one hundred years ago the small strip of flat sand protruding from the Arabian peninsula that is Qatar was populated by only a few thousand nomadic tribal peoples and pearl fishermen. Shortly afterwards oil was discovered, then following independence from Britain in 1971, the country's development has been exponential. It has the highest GDP per capita in the world as of 2010, highest production of both oil and gas per head, and is gearing up to host the 2022 Football World Cup.

I visited friends in Qatar for a weekend in spring 2011, before the oppressive summer heat had really kicked in. Flying across from Dubai took less than an hour, and within ten minutes of leaving the airport I was at the villa. Doha is a small place, despite its rapid development, but the foreign population on which the country heavily relies already outnumbers the locals considerably. A tour around the city taking all the photos below took less than two hours.

Welcome to Doha!

Welcome to Doha! I'd like to think that's what this cheerful chap on the Corniche was saying, but I think he was actually reminding me not to drop litter.

Doha's Pearl Monument, testament to the pearl diving trade which once propped up the nation economically.

Pearl Monument, Doha Corniche

Tower of Babel

The Fanar Islamic Centre just south of the Corniche is a bit of a landmark, and looks somewhat like the Tower of Babel. At least, the image of the tower that is popularly accepted, in the engraving by Gustave Doré.

Crossed swords span Grand Hammad Street in downtown Doha. These swords are quite similar to the Hands of Victory monument in Baghdad, under which Saddam Hussein would conduct his military parades. No such parades take place here.

Crossed swords


Hookahs, nargile or shisha pipes, whatever you want to call them, for sale in the Gold Souq in Doha.

No gold souq would be complete without copious quantities of gold, naturally.


Inside Souq Waqif

The centrepiece souq of Doha is the Souq Waqif, which sells all sorts of traditional Arabian garb such as Spongebob Squarepants pyjamas.

Colourful scarves for sale in Souq Waqif.

Scarves for sale

Come, into the light!

A Qatari local eschews the scarves for sale and heads for the light.

Outside Souq Waqif there is a series of cafés and hang-out spots. The souq has been well restored in recent years to resemble its former self. The Tower of Babel is visible in the background.

Outside Souq Waqif

Random Bedouin tent

Outside the souq we encountered a random Bedouin tent. No explanation, it was just there.

Camels, as if attracted by the presence of the Bedouin tent, were loitering nearby.

Camels hanging out

Central mosque

Doha central mosque, across from Souq Waqif and behind the Emiri Diwan, which houses the government.

Doha's Museum of Islamic Art is another of the Corniche landmarks, and was designed by I.M. Pei, the same bloke responsible for the pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, the Bank of China in Hong Kong, and the Mudam in Luxembourg.

Museum of Islamic Art

Doha skyline and dhows

Dhows in the bay encircled by Doha's Corniche, with the distinctive angular form of the Sheraton Hotel in the skyline behind.

The more modern part of the Doha skyline as seen from the Corniche. The two tallest buildings are the Palm Towers, and the conspicuous silver bullet is the Burj Qatar.

Doha skyline seen from the Corniche

Strange gold building

A closer look at some of Doha's modern office architecture, with a giant gold ball wedged between slabs.

The Lagoon Plaza Towers north of the city at West Bay Lagoon, more popularly known as zig-zag towers, for reasons apparent.

Zig zag towers

Private beaches at West Bay Lagoon

Part of the West Bay Lagoon development and The Pearl Qatar land reclamation projects includes a private beach for every villa. You can even use it to park your yacht.

Qatar is as flat as a pancake, so much so that they're actually building artificial hills to give some more visual interest to new developments of villas. This is near to the St Regis Hotel, which looms behind.

Artificial topography

Aspire Stadium

The Aspire Stadium is part of the Aspire Park sports city to the west of town, and was opened for the 2006 Asian Games. It will also be one of the venues for the 2022 World Cup.

The Aspire Tower marks the area from afar, so you know which way to drive to get there. It is a hyperboloid structure, and is reminiscent of the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China.

Aspire Tower

Villaggio Mall

Adjacent to Aspire Park is the Villaggio Mall, Doha's answer to the malls of Las Vegas except with considerably less gambling. The ceiling is painted like the sky to give a more alfresco feel.

The Villaggio Mall even comes complete with its own canal, straight out of the Venetian in Las Vegas or Macau.

Las Vegas in the Gulf

Typical expat housing

Many of the western expats in Doha live in compound developments such as this one, at Al Fardan Villas. A little slice of western suburbia in the middle of the desert.

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2011