Al Zubarah Archaeological Site

 
N25 58 41 E51 1 47
Date of Inscription: 2013
Criteria: (iii)(iv)(v)
Property : 415.66 ha
Buffer zone: 7,196.4 ha
Ref: 1402rev
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The walled coastal town of Al Zubarah in the Persian Gulf flourished as a pearling and trading centre in the late 18th century and early 19th centuries, before it was destroyed in 1811 and abandoned in the early 1900s. Founded by merchants from Kuwait, Al Zubarah had trading links across the Indian Ocean, Arabia and Western Asia. A layer of sand blown from the desert has protected the remains of the site’s palaces, mosques, streets, courtyard houses, and fishermen’s huts; its harbour and double defensive walls, a canal, walls, and cemeteries. Excavation has only taken place over a small part of the site, which offers an outstanding testimony to an urban trading and pearl-diving tradition which sustained the region’s major coastal towns and led to the development of small independent states that flourished outside the control of the Ottoman, European, and Persian empires and eventually led to the emergence of modern day Gulf States.

The walled coastal town of Al Zubarah in the Persian Gulf flourished as a pearling and trading centre for a short period of some fifty years in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Founded by Utub merchants from Kuwait, its prosperity related to its involvement in trade of high value commodities, most notably the export of pearls. At the height of its prosperity, Al Zubarah had trading links with the Indian Ocean, Arabia and Western Asia.

Al Zubarah was one of a long line of prosperous, fortified trading towns around the coast in what is now Qatar, and in other parts of the Persian Gulf, that developed from the early Islamic period, around the 9th century AD, onwards and established a symbiotic relationship with inland settlements. Individually these trading towns probably competed with each other over the many centuries during which the India Ocean trade was plied.

Al Zubarah was mostly destroyed in 1811 and finally abandoned in the early 20th century, after which its remaining rubble stone and mortar buildings collapsed and were gradually covered by a protective layer of sand blown from the desert. A small part of the town has been excavated. The property consists of the remains of the town, with its palaces, mosques, streets, courtyard houses, and fishermen’s huts, its harbour and double defensive walls, and, on its land side, of a canal, two screening walls, and cemeteries. A short distance away are the remains of the fort of Qal’at Murair, with evidence of how the desert’s supplies of water were managed and protected, and a further fort constructed in 1938.

What distinguished Al Zubarah from the other trading towns of the Persian Gulf is that it lasted a comparatively short space of time, secondly that it was abandoned, thirdly that it has lain largely untouched since being covered by the desert sands, and fourthly that its wider context can still be read through the remains of small satellite settlements and the remains of possibly competing towns nearby along the coast.

The layout of Al Zubarah has been preserved under the desert sands. The entire town, still within its desert hinterland, are a vivid reflection of the development of an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century trading society in the Gulf region and its interaction with the surrounding desert landscape.

Al Zubarah is not exceptional because it was unique or distinguished in some way from these other settlements, but rather for the way that it can be seen an outstanding testimony to an urban trading and pearl-diving tradition which sustained the major coastal towns of the region from the early Islamic period or earlier to the 20th century, and to exemplify the string of urban foundations which rewrote the political and demographic map of the Persian Gulf during the 18th and early 19th centuries and led to the development of small independent states that flourished outside the control of the Ottoman, European, and Persian empires and which eventually led to the emergence of modern day Gulf States.

Criterion (iii): The abandoned settlement of Al Zubarah, as the only remaining complete urban plan of an Arabian pearl-merchant town, is an exceptional testimony to the merchant and pearl trading tradition of the Persian Gulf during the 18th and 19th centuries, the almost final flourishing of a tradition that sustained the major coastal towns of the region from the early Islamic period or earlier to the 20th century.

Criterion (iv): Al Zubarah, as a fortified town linked to settlements in its hinterland, exemplifies the string of urban foundations that rewrote the political and demographic map of the Persian Gulf during the 18th and early 19th centuries through building on the strategic position of the region as a trading conduit. Al Zubarah can thus be seen as an example of the small independent states that were founded and flourished in the 18th and early 19th centuries outside the control of the Ottoman, European, and Persian empires. This period can now be seen as a significant moment in human history, when the Gulf States that exist today were founded.

Criterion (v): Al Zubarah bears a unique testimony to the human interaction with both the sea and the harsh desert environment of the region. Pearl divers’ weights, imported ceramics, depictions of dhows, fish traps, wells and agricultural activity show how the town’s development was driven by trade and commerce, and how closely the town’s inhabitants were connected with the sea and their desert hinterland.

The urban landscape of Al Zubarah and its relatively intact seascape and desert hinterland are not intrinsically remarkable or unique amongst Persian Gulf settlements, nor do they exhibit unusual land management techniques. What makes them exceptional is the evidence they present as a result of complete abandonment over the last three generations. This allows them to be understood as a fossilised reflection of the way coastal trading towns harvested resources from the sea and from their desert hinterland at a specific time.

Suggested Bases:

Al Shamal is a municipality in the state of Qatar. The seaside teems with local dhow boats. Al Ruwais is part of a conglomeration of towns in the municipality of Madinat ash Shamal, including Al Ruwais (little more than a sleepy fishing village the northernmost city of the Qatar peninsula) and Abu Dahlouf. See Rock carving at Al Jassassiyeh. Al Jassassiyeh Carvings (Al Jassassiya) (near Huwailah and Fuwarit). A collection of about 900 petroglyphs, depicting such subjects as local fauna and boats. There are also geometric cup-shaped depressions, thought to have been used for traditional Arabian games using stones as counters. Recent studies date the oldest of these carvings to about 250 years old. Free. Al Rakiyat Fort (Al-Rekayat Fort), 15 km north of Zubarah, next to a camel farm (turn inland at the Al-Khuwair radio station, drive 200 m off-road, 4WD not required). 24 hr. Built between the 17th and 19th centuries, restored in 1988 [read more].

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 on the Persian Gulf, akin to the development seen in nearby Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and is aiming to become a centre of international trade and travel. For most of its history Doha was a poor fishing village dependent on pearl diving, and was regarded as a sleepy backwater until as recently as the early 1990s. Following the accession of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani as Emir in 1995, however, Qatar quickly began to modernize, and Doha is now taking huge strides to catch up with other nearby Gulf cities, especially in preparation for its hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022. The city is very much a work-in-progress, with a rapidly growing skyline and new buildings sprouting up almost like mushrooms [read more].

Al Rayyan is a city in the municipality of its namesake, Al Rayyan, Qatar. The city and its suburbs comprise the largest population center in Qatar outside of Doha proper. Consisting of all of the districts in the municipality’s easternmost section, its boundary cuts off at roughly the point where the Al Majd Highway runs through the municipality. It is considered a part of the Metropolitan Doha area. It is one of the proposed venues for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. The city’s name derives the Arabic word “ray”, which translates to “irrigation”. It was given this name due to its low elevation, allowing it to act as a flood plain during the rainy season and provide a prolonged supply of water to the numerous wild plants and crops that grew in the area. Before the massive expansion of Al Rayyan City, the two main areas in Al Rayyan were Old Al Rayyan and New Al Rayyan [read more]

 

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