The labyrinthine Souq Waqif preserving Qatar’s history, culture | Features


Doha, Qatar – With Doha’s dramatic skyline within the background, Souq Waqif, positioned within the coronary heart of the capital’s previous downtown, is a vibrant, labyrinthine market which permits guests to step again in time to a conventional Arab market.

Hamalis (porters) roam by way of the slender, winding alleys with their wheelbarrows, some carrying consumers’ purchases, others searching for prospects.

The aged get pleasure from a recreation of dama (backgammon) within the Majlis al Dama. For the youthful era, there are the toy retailers, chook market and the sight of pigeons selecting up the grains unfold casually throughout the outer grounds.

There are the unique smells of saffron, cloves and cardamom within the air, the sight of glowing gold and valuable metals customary into probably the most gorgeous items of jewelry.

A hamali waits for purchasers within the souq’s alleyways [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Based greater than a century in the past, Souq Waqif was as soon as a weekend buying and selling hub on the banks of the Msheirib wadi (river) to facilitate commerce between nomadic Bedouin and the locals.

Waqif, “standing” in Arabic, pertains to retailers and residents who would do their dealings standing up because of the overflow of seawater on each side of the Wadi, which had poured into the market.

“Not a single store was constructed in the course of the pioneering interval, and Doha’s corniche was solely a brief distance from the souq, till builders started turning the water’s edge extra into land,” Shams al-Qassabi, the primary Qatari girl to open a enterprise within the Souq Waqif in 2004, informed Al Jazeera.

The weekly market quickly turned an necessary location not just for commerce but additionally data and information, contributing to the switch not simply of tangible items however the growth of information.

“It was not solely an necessary web site for commerce, but additionally for social life. It was the place the group would come to know the most recent developments, each native and worldwide,” she added.

Raised within the Al Jesra neighbourhood, adjoining to Souq Waqif, al-Qassabi witnessed her father, uncles and prolonged relations’ enterprise turned rooted on this conventional market, duly noting their emotional ties with the place.

“I think about Souq Waqif an important a part of my and my ancestors’ lives since I grew up in its alleyways, surrounded by its magnificence and all of the attraction it has to supply.”

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Shams al-Qassabi, the primary Qatari girl to open a enterprise within the Souq Waqif in 2004 [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

She has witnessed not solely the bodily transformation of the souq but additionally the social adjustments going down.

Following in her father’s footsteps, and with an intention of serving to her retired husband, she took a daring initiative to interrupt down the gender stereotypes holding again ladies entrepreneurs within the male-dominated souq and opened each a spice store and a restaurant often called Shay Al Shoomos.

“Girls visiting the souq weren’t appreciated by society on the time. So the fabric-selling retailers would carry a basket referred to as a boksha door to door, crying out to encourage ladies to buy their items.”

With the invention of oil and the growth of the oil trade within the Nineteen Fifties, Qatar’s financial system was dramatically remodeled and Souq Waqif thrived accordingly.

However the growth in prosperity from the Nineteen Sixties to the Nineties additionally noticed an enormous growth of the shopping center surroundings and, as a consequence, Souq Waqif’s recognition and footfall went right into a decline.

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Souq Waqif with Doha’s skyline within the background [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

In 2003, a lot of the souq was destroyed by a hearth.

As Doha cityscape started to alter, and realising the catastrophic lack of custom, Qatar’s emir commissioned famend Qatari artist Mohamed Ali Abdullah for a brand new souq based mostly on the looks of the previous one.

A story storyboard was created after discussions with builders and artists. Abdullah supervised the manufacturing of a sequence of drawings that illustrated the on a regular basis dwelling practices of Qatari individuals.

Coupled with the information of expert craftsmen to create a brand new imaginative and prescient for the souq, work started from 2004.

Fashionable buildings had been changed with historically constructed roofs of dangeal wooden and bamboo with a binding layer of clay and straw, and methods to insulate the buildings in opposition to excessive warmth had been re-introduced.

Upon completion, a cultural and historic phenomenon was recreated.

Quick-forward all these years, moving into the winding, maze-like passages of Souq Waqif is sort of like stepping again in time.

“Other than native prospects, I obtain many vacationers every day. Some come to benefit from the conventional flavours of the spice souq, whereas others take dwelling their decide from the colorful sacks of spices and herbs for household and pals,” Muhammad Abul Kalam, who has traded spices and herbs on the Muhammad Sadiq Ali Akbar retailer for greater than 30 years, informed Al Jazeera.

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Retailers in Souq Waqif [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Different choices embrace carved wood objects, trinkets and pillboxes crafted in wooden and silver, broad choice of espresso and dates, and even massive, costly conventional objects similar to carpets and rugs.

As Qatar World Cup 2022 approaches, many shops within the souq, particularly the memento locations, are bracing themselves for an inflow of vacationers and, consequently, a wholesome cashflow.

KP Musammil, who works at Khor Aladid Historic Artwork, is considered one of them, hoping for a lift in football-related gross sales.

“Daily, there are numerous vacationers right here. Nonetheless, in the course of the World Cup, I hope there shall be at the least thrice, if no more.”

Nasirul Rain, who works at Esfahan Gallery, has not visited his native Nepal in a very long time however is suspending the journey till after the World Cup.

“We need to depart World Cup followers with a long-lasting reminiscence of Qatar by impressing them with one thing distinctive that they can’t discover in their very own nation,” he informed Al Jazeera.

“We’ve got hand-knitted Persian carpets however the Sadu weaving ones are one thing significantly thought to be an ideal instance of a conventional Gulf cultural product. Vacationers and Arab guests are keen to buy them as mementos of Qatar’s cultural heritage,” Rain added.

As well as, the souq provides an enormous array of eating places and eateries catering to all tastes together with Iraqi, Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian, Indian, Azerbaijani, Yemeni and Qatari amongst others.

Two olfactory pleasures which are onerous to withstand are the delectable aromas of bread baking in a taboon (clay oven), or the scent of smoky kebabs scorching on an open charcoal hearth.

Souq Waqif Doha, Qatar [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]
An outdoor view of the Souq Waqif [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Freshly fried scorching falafel completes the scent of true genuine Arabian cooking.

For a extra flamboyant and thrilling leisure, there’s the Falcon Souq, the place a direct glimpse into the previous may be obtained by way of this ever-popular sporting custom.

Greater than a dozen falconers are working specialised retailers right here, offering a variety of widespread falconry merchandise and internet hosting falcon excursions to realize a deeper information of falconry as a sport and cultural custom.

“The worth of a falcon begins from 2,500 Qatari riyals ($685) and might go up to some hundred thousand riyals, relying on the sort and breed. Nearly all of our prospects are Qataris, Saudis and Kuwaitis,” Mohammad Islam, a consultant of Al Ghizlaniyah Falcons & Requires that has been in commerce for greater than 30 years, informed Al Jazeera.

Subsequent door is the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital, boasting medical services massive sufficient to deal with as much as 130 birds throughout peak season.

With the presence of an artwork centre, highlighting conventional Islamic and fashionable Arabian artwork, the world rounds off choices to cater for all types of holiday makers as a cultural and historic nexus between the previous and the current.

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Abdullah Bin Zaid Al Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Middle adjoining to Souq Waqif [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]
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Some meals choices for guests at Souq Waqif [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

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