Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Souq Waqif’

Resurrecting Heritage

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th November, 2017

50A7EEC0-E10B-4108-B0DD-F23EE99C4BB1Tourists who visit Britain often sigh that half the country seems to be a museum: a cornucopia of historic buildings, gardens and magnificent vistas. On that count, Italy is even more spectacular, let’s admit it; I will never tire of discovering fresh antiquities and stunning palazzi in Rome. But here in the Gulf, where I am once more at the moment, heritage is often harder to find. Of course, with the notable exception of majestic Oman — with its castles and forts and jewel of a capital, Muscat — the Gulf states are relatively modern, and in the case of parts of the UAE in particularly, aggressively modern, championing the new and the awe-inspiring. Yet even in Dubai there is now a realisation that both for its intrinsic value for the local population and to lure visitors, emirates and their cities need to treasure what heritage they have. Or, in some cases, resurrect it.

9778D95D-F65F-4AC0-9023-3BB6F5852BABThe most impressive example of that resurrection is the Souq Waqif in Qatar’s capital, Doha, with its pedestrianised streets, reconstructed market shops and sidewalk cafes. Critics may sneer it is more Disney than authentic, but hats off to the Qataris for a noble effort that is a pleasant place to stroll or stop off for a juice on a cooler evening. Here in Dubai, where I am now, a massive amount of regeneration work in one if the historic districts of Bur Dubai, Al Shindagha, is underway — frustratingly cordoned off at the moment — as new wind towers are erected, pathways laid and old buildings restored. At least UAE does have some vestiges that can be rescued. Others in the region are not so fortunate. Virtually all of Kuwait’s heritage was demolished in the 20th century — the Iraqi occupiers in 1990-1991 adding their own dose of destructiveness while they were there. It is fine being modern, even ultra-modern, but a country’s identity is only retained if one foot is kept firmly in the built past.

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Iftar at Bayt Qatar

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th July, 2012

Many of the competing nations at the London Olympics have hired prestigious venues as their ‘House’ for the length of the competition, as a base for nationals, supporters and guests, with all sorts of events taking place, as well as screenings of the sporting events themselves. This evening I was at Bayt Qatar, the House of the Gulf State of Qatar, which in normal life is the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in Savoy Place, overlooking the River Thames. Part of the ground floor has been converted into a mock-up of Doha’s Souq Waqif and there’s a Sports Bar, offering what you would expect there. As a member of the executive Board of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) I was  not only invited to the iftar (fast-breaking) dinner — Lebanese food courtesy of Harrod’s, now in Qatari ownership — but was also given membership of Bayt Qatar for the duration, which is something I am likely to make use of when I’m in that part of town. After dinner in the 3rd-floor restaurant and a refeshing breather on the terrace, with its fantastic sweeping view of the Thames, I attended a concert in the on-site theatre, starring Qatari singer Fahd Al Kubaisi, Italian tenor Tino Favazza and the zany Spanish gypsy guitarist and singer José Galvez, who wowed the children in the audience by throwing himself around the room like no adult they have ever seen. The finale for me (though not the concert) was a fusion medley of Arabic, Greek, Russian and Cuban influences by the Chehade Brothers. There was a great backing band all the way through, really getting into the spirit of things. Other events at Bayt Qatar over the next fortnight include fashion shows and film screenings.

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Doha: Town Centre Versus City Center

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd April, 2012

Since Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani acceded as Emir of Qatar in 1995 the face of the country’s capital, Doha, has been transformed. Several of the souks around the old town centre have been renovated or reproduced and some traditional streets lined with cafes and restaurants have been pedestrianised, notably around the Souq Waqif. But all the high-rise building has been concentrated much further round the bay at what’s now referred to as the City Center — the suitably Americanised name of a huge shopping mall located there, which houses an ice-skating rink under its tallest atrium. A cluster of tower blocks — some really distinguished architecturally, others less so — have been erected in the area, but not in a depressingly straight line as along Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road. There are curving avenues and short streets running betwen Doha’s skyscrapers, just as the main road along the corniche is an elegant arc. The Corniche used to be quite narrow when I first came to Doha 20-odd years ago, but is now an 8-lane highway. But people still jog or walk along the seaside paths. The Sheraton Hotel, which opened in the 1980s, was the emirate’s only building of real note at the time, but now has been joined by other remarkable edifices, not least the Museum of Islamic Arts, designed by I M Pei. Between the town centre, with its deliberate Old World charm, and the brasher modernity of the City Center lie a series of parks and government buildings, including the massive Emiri Diwan housing the Ruler’s offices. Outside of the unbearably hot summer months, walking around Doha is far more pleasant than in several other Gulf cities and the contrast of its two poles — what one might call a tale of two cities in one — adds to the attraction.

 

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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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