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Occupying a small peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf is Qatar, (Arabic: قطر; pronounced kut-ar) a rich Arab state to the north of Saudi Arabia, east of Bahrain and west of the United Arab Emirates. Many come to the Middle East seeking the mystic, traditional life of the Bedouins, wandering the desert with their life belongings on a camel's back. Although tradition is still an important part of the Qatari ethos, the country has well-and-truly moved into the twenty-first century with the piercing glass skyscrapers of Doha, a booming trade sector and a newly-found place in international diplomacy. (less...) (more...)
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There is evidence that shows the Qatar peninsula had been inhabited by Bedouin and Canaanite tribes from as early as 4000 BCE. While the museum houses a variety of artifacts including spearheads and pieces of pottery, there is little left of the structures that may have once existed. The Al-Jassassiya rock carvings north of Doha give some idea of how these tribes may have lived. More recently, some sandstone buildings and mosques were discovered, piquing the interest of archaeologists as they seek to discover what still lays beneath the sand.
Emerging out of ancient history, Qatar was dominated by various Western and Eastern empires. The Holy Jihad used the peninsula as a trading post and military port, until the Portuguese were able to extend their rule over the region. Neighbouring Bahrain eventually annexed the peninsula, until rebel movements and British intervention again made Qatar independent. Under pressure, Qatar became a part of the Ottoman Empire in 1871 before becoming a British protectorate at the close of World War I. After a brief stint as part of the United Arab Emirates, independence was declared from Britain peacefully in 1971.
Since these times, Qatar has transformed itself from a poor British protectorate noted mainly for its pearling industry into an independent state with significant oil and natural gas revenues, which enable Qatar to have the highest GDP per capita in the world. Qatar has become deeply involved in world affairs under the royal family, offering support in peacekeeping missions and UN-mandated wars such as that in the Gulf in 1991. Qatar also plays host to various world conferences, including those of the World Trade Organisation, the UN Climate Convention and various mediation bodies. It leaped onto the world stage with the development of the popular Al Jazeera news network and expansion of Qatar Airways to most of the world's continents, and is rapidly gaining interest among foreigners as it prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup after already holding the Asian Games in 2006.
The climate of Qatar can be described as arid and unforgiving. In the summer, which runs from May through to September, the days are characterised by intense and humid heat, averaging 35°C but not unknown to peak at 50°C. In the winter, October to April, the days are much more bearable at about 20-25°C, with a nice cool evening down to around 15°C. If the heat is to be avoided, the best months to visit would be December through January.
Rainfall and storms in Qatar are extremely rare, forcing locals to retrieve water from newly-constructed desalination plants. However, huge sandstorms that envelop the peninsula are common in the summertime. These can be hazardous if not under shelter, and will descend the country into darkness as it blots out the hot sun above. There may also be disruptions to transportation and other services.
A great activity for tourists is simply to experience the nation's tradition. The traditional Qatari way of life was simple: Bedouin nomads wandering the desert with their camels, and fisherman scouring the ocean floor for pearls to trade. While these two lifestyles are mostly extinct on the peninsula, the government has taken some measures to preserve their traditions for future generations to experience.
Many tour companies run desert expeditions by both four-wheel drive and camel. Some may just be for the day, while others can go for up to a week with trekkers camping overnight in a Bedouin tent. The one day "dune-bashing" tours simply involve speeding over the desert's endless dunes in a Landcruiser.
The pearling tradition has existed as far back as 2000 BCE, when Mesopotamian records speak of shining "fish eyes" imported from the Gulf region. While the industry went bust after the discovery of oil, a large festival is held each year to celebrate the tradition. The Qatar Marine Festival in Doha often includes a huge sea expedition by various dhow boats to find oyster beds on the ocean floor. Other activities at the festival include a musical performance, a seal show, a sandsculptor's expedition and a water, light and sound show.
Many companies offer shipwreck diving for tourists, which can be organised from Doha. Popular diving sites include the man-made Old Club Reef and New Club Reef just out of Messaied, Qapco Reef, the M.O. Shipwreck and the Al Sharque Shipwreck.
Other popular watersports include kite-surfing, driving jet-skis, surfing and chartered fishing expeditions.
Qatar has seemingly endless options for food, much of it excellent. If you would like European cuisine in a fancy setting, visit a hotel like the Ramada or the Marriott, both of which also offer excellent sushi and the choice of having drinks with your meal (the only restaurants in town that can do this are in the major hotels), but at a steep price. Authentic and delicious Indian and Pakistani food is found throughout the city, ranging from family-oriented places to very basic eateries catering to the Indian and Pakistani workers. You may attract some curious stares in the worker eateries, but the management will almost always be extremely welcoming, and the food is very inexpensive.
Middle Eastern cuisine is everywhere as well, and in many forms—kebabs, breads, hummus, the list goes on. It can be purchased on the cheap from a take-out (many of which look quite unimpressive, but serve awesome food) or from a fancier place, like the wonderful Layali (near Chili's in the 'Cholesterol Corner' area) that serves gourmet Lebanese food and has hookahs with flavored tobacco. Refined Persian cuisine is available for reasonable prices in the royally appointed Ras Al-Nasa`a Restaurant on the Corniche (don't miss the cathedral-like rest rooms).
Don't be afraid to venture into the Souqs looking for a meal; it will be a unique experience in an authentic setting, and although some of the places you see may look rundown, that's just the area in general, and the food will be probably be quite good. Be advised that many of the restaurants in the Souqs (as well as the shops) shut down during the afternoon hours. If you are in a funny kind of mood, you can try a McArabia—McDonald's Middle Eastern sandwich available only in the region.
There is one liquor store, Qatar Distribution Centre, in Doha. To purchase things there, you must have a license that can only be obtained by having a written letter of permission from your employer. You can only get a license when you have obtained your residency permit and you will need to get a letter from your employer confirming your salary in addition to paying a deposit for QR1000. The selection is good and is like any alcohol selection of a large supermarket in the West. Prices are reasonable although not cheap. Alcoholic beverages are available in the restaurants and bars of the major hotels, although they are pricey. Be aware, driving under the influence and public intoxication carry heavy penalties, including deportation, so be responsible. As far as non-alcoholic drinks go, be sure to hit some of the Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants and juice stalls. They whip up some tasty and exotic fruit juice combinations that really hit the spot.
It is forbidden to bring alcohol in to the country as a tourist; at Doha airport customs xray bags and will confiscate any bottles of alcoholic drink. They will issue a receipt valid for 2 weeks to reclaim the alcohol on exit from the country.
The national currency is the Qatari riyal (QAR). The riyal is pegged to the US dollar at the rate of QR 3.64 to US $1. One riyal is divided into 100 dirham, with 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 dirham coin denominations. The riyal is available in 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 banknote denominations.
It is fairly straightforward to change major world currencies within Qatar, along with the currencies of Bahrain, Saudia Arabia and the UAE. Rates are fairly similar between banks and moneychangers, with a large concentration of moneychangers near the Gold Souq of Doha. Banks are abundant across Doha, with branches in the larger cities as well. Travellers cheques are accepted by the major banks.
City Centre is currently the largest mall in Qatar and has many stores to choose from. Other malls include Landmark (includes a Marks & Spencer store), Hyatt Plaza, The Mall, Royal Plaza and Villagio.
Blue Salon has huge sales twice a year where you can pick up Armani, Valentino and Cerutti suits for half price. There are many things to buy here but be wary of cheap pearls that have a high possibility of being fake. The many skilled tailors in Qatar make it a good place to have clothes made-to-fit.
The souqs in the centre of Doha also have a lot to offer, although the goods are usually of cheaper quality than those of the malls. Prices are usually negotiable, so practice your bargaining skills. Souq Waqif (The Standing Souk) is the most interesting of the souqs; it was recently renovated to look as it did 50 or 60 years ago. You can buy anything from a turban to a pot large enough to cook a baby camel in!
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Qatar on Wikivoyage.
Cities in Qatar
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Once little more than a minuscule pearl fishing village, Doha, Qatar's capital and largest city, has emerged to become one of the pearls of the Middle East. It is one of the most rapidly-developing cities in the Persian Gulf, akin to the development seen in nearby Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and is destined to ... (read more)
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Mesaieed, also known as Umm Sa'id, is a major town and port on the Qatar peninsula. Similar to many cities across the country, Mesaieed was founded in 1949 as a tanker terminal, to help grow Qatar's oil industry. It was the only deep-sea port for over 20 years, which helped it grow as a centre of trade. ... (read more)
- Khor Al-Adaid Natural Reserve
Points of Interest in Qatar
For a comparatively small peninsula in the Middle East, there is quite a lot to see in Qatar.
The history-seeker will not be disappointed, with an assortment of ruins, cave art and museums to keep the mind wandering. Most famous is the archaeological site of Zubarah, where there are the remains of what was once a thriving port city. An early 20th century fort on the site still stands as a museum, a testament to a bygone era. The Al-Jassassiya rock carvings in north-eastern Qatar are a remarkable site of 900 petroglyphs that are believed to date back to ancient tribes who inhabited the peninsula during the 15th century BCE.
A number of forts and towers exist around the country; most of them have also been restored as museums. The Barzan Towers stand at the edge of the town of Umm Salal Mohammed, erected to safeguard the country's rainwater basin. Another defensive watchtower stands in Al Khor. The popular Al Koot Fort is located in the heart of the capital Doha, with a wide variety of traditional handicrafts within. Others structures include Marwab Fort, Al Thughab Fort, Al Shaghab Fort, Al Rakiyat Fort, Al Wajbah Fort and the ruins of Al Yussoufiya Fort, Umm Al Maa Fort and Al Ghuwair Castle.
While the National Museum is currently closed for renovations, there are a number of other museums across the country that specialise in history. The Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum in Al Shahaniya is the Sheikh's collection of relics, artefacts and art from Qatar, the Middle East and around the world.
Culture and tradition
Nature and the land
- The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha
- Souq Waqif : the traditional old marketplace of Qatar. Has many good restaurants, especially at night time. Also sells many national products - bargaining is recommended.
- The Pearl : a man-made island connected to Doha by a bridge. You can find a big variety of restaurants and shops, mainly in the high range.
- Villaggio Mall: a spectacular Venetian style shopping mall with a canal and gondolas as well. A huge variety of shops from casual to luxury.
- Mathaf : The Arab museum of modern art
- Katara : Cultural village which is home to many international and Arab restaurants, a beautiful beach, and holds many cultural events. Definitely a place to see.
- Aqua park : Aquatic Funfair.
Souq Waqif - Doha
Zubara Fort - Al Ghuwayriyah
Aspire Tower - Doha
City Centre Doha - Doha
Museum of Islamic Art - Doha
Corniche - Doha
Villagio Mall - Doha
Al-Rumailah Park - Doha
Qatar National Library - Doha
Grand Hamad Street - Doha
Sport City - Doha
Katara Cultural Village - Doha
Qatar National Museum - Doha
Khalifa International Stadium - Doha
Grand Hamad Stadium - Doha
Qatar SC Stadium - Doha
Qatar National Convention Centre - Doha
Khalifa International Tennis Complex - Doha
Weill Cornell Medical College - Doha
Carnegie Mellon University Qatar - Doha