Jonathan Fryer

Doha’s Souq Waqif

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th December, 2008

souq-waqif-stamp      Too many cities in the Arabian Gulf have swept away their heritage on the principle ‘Out with the old, in with the new!’ As a result,  places like Kuwait City have almost no worthwhile heritage left. But Qatar’s capital, Doha, is an exception. The central Souq Waqif was in a pretty sorry state 20 years ago, but rather than being knocked down, it has been sensitively restored, enlarged and enhanced. The main throughfare has been pedestrianised and is lined with small shops, shisha cafes, Western coffee shops and a whole series of restaurants with tables outside. This attractive scene naturally draws many tourists, but interestingly the majority of people wandering around in the evening, or sitting smoking a water-pipe, are Arabs.

One of the souq’s larger buildings has even been turned into Doha’s first boutique hotel, the newly-opened Hotel Souq Waqif, which has 13 deluxe bedrooms and suites furnished in a mixture of antique and contemporary Oriental styles with notable works of art from India. The hotel has a fine seafood restaurant, too. But anyone fancying a truly Orientalist experience should also check out the Persian restaurant in the souq — a gloriously over-the-top mirrored covered courtyard which features a fountain and pool in which melons and pomegranates float, while cute staff in David Roberts-style 19th century Iranian servants’ clothes dish out authentic Persian cuisine to Arab families seated on the floor in individual alcoves.

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