Evidence of human settlements in Qatar date back over 8,000 years, but for the majority of its history its arid desert climate was only able to sustain a small number of nomadic tribes.
The tiny peninsula has been ruled by the al-Thani family since the mid 1800s. During this period a series of disputes with neighbouring countries attracted the attention of the British, and their diplomatic response resulted in the eventual foundation of the State of Qatar on 18th December 1878. However, it took until 1916 before Britain granted Qatar the official status of British Protectorate.
At this time Doha's economy depended almost entirely on fishing and pearling: the settlement had 350 pearling boats. After Japan introduced cultured pearls in the 1920s, the capital city was plunged into poverty until oil was discovered in the late 1930s. The anticipated oil boom was delayed by the onset of the Second World War, and exploration and exportation did not reach significant proportions until the 1950s.
In 1971 Britain announced its intentions to withdraw from Qatar. On 3rd September 1971, after an initial attempt to form a federation with Bahrain and the modern-day United Arab Emirates, Qatar declared itself an independent sovereign state. Today, Qatar is able to produce more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day and Doha’s arid desert landscape now sustains a population of over one million.
A tiny peninsula less than 200 kilometres long by 100 kilometres wide, Qatar’s attractions can be enjoyed in just a few days, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the white beaches, warm waters and endless sunshine of the country.
Doha’s heritage is relatively well preserved and a trip to the Omani Souk evokes a sense of a bygone era where shopkeepers trade perfumed oud, aromatic spices and the less-fragrant dried fish. Close by are the Wholesale Market Souks where traders sell locally-caught fish alongside home-grown herbs and sandy vegetables. Next door, the bustling camel market lets you get up close with these remarkable ‘ships of the desert’, but avoid the nearby livestock market: it’s not for the faint-hearted.
Qatari culture is addressed by the Museum of Islamic Art, which is home to the Emir’s personal art and antiquities collection. Located on Doha’s beautiful Corniche, the museum’s geometric architecture alone is worth a visit – it was designed by I.M. Pei, who also created The Louvre’s glass pyramid.
Doha is a truly multicultural city, resulting in a huge choice of cuisines from all over the globe to suit all budgets.
Visitors in need of a quick snack will love shawarmas – lamb or chicken carved from a rotisserie then rolled in flatbread with salad and garlic sauce. Served long into the night from roadside stands, these are staple food for night owls.
For a more elegant yet authentic Middle Eastern dining experience, visit Souk Wakif. Built to a traditional design on the site of the old Bedouin trading market, the Souk is a maze of alleyways packed with everything from traditional clothing to incense, and is also a great Arabic - and international - dining destination.
Those looking for an upmarket place to eat should head to The Pearl, an artificial island built on an ancient pearl diving site. Newly opened, it features several celebrity chef restaurants alongside other designer dining and nightlife establishments.
Doha is only a small footprint on Qatar’s vast desert, and the sand dunes start less than 15 kilometres from the city centre. A trip to the desert is a great way to witness the harsh elements the nomadic Bedouin tribes endured; luckily 4x4 vehicles make the trip a safer and more exhilarating experience.
Seventy-five kilometres south west of Doha city centre is the Qatari’s favourite desert destination: Khor al Adaid. Known by expatriates as the ‘inland sea’, Khor al Adaid is an inlet of the Arabian Gulf which has carved a shallow channel deep into the heart of the desert. Entirely surrounded by dunes, the calm waters make a refreshing respite from the desert heat – take a picnic and camping gear to get the most out of this amazing oasis experience.