Tag Archives: heritage

Enger Tower Stands Tall in Duluth, Minnesota

The power of observation takes many forms. It can never be overrated or understated. The simplistic beauty of a sea view, towering pines of a forest and a city skyline all offer up splendid scenic beauty with the naked eye.

Duluth, Minnesota, situated on the shores of Lake Superior in the U.S., provides its own scenic sights from the Enger Observation Tower. The tower’s purpose was – and is – to delight visitors with its magnificent panoramic views of central Duluth, the Duluth-Superior Harbor, the North Shore, and the western tip of Lake Superior.

The well-worn 80-foot, iconic stone façade tower is perched high on the Enger Hill bluffs overlooking Lake Superior, rising 531 feet above the lake’s surface.Unger-Tower

As I hiked up the steep incline one sunny March afternoon, sidestepping piles of frozen ice and snow slowly melting into spring, I marveled at the stunning views in all directions. This area of Minnesota is already beautiful – the gateway to the famed North Shore – but at the tower summit, it truly was a majestic sight.

The stone tower itself was rugged in its own right as if knowing it needed to withstand the test of time through brutal Minnesota winters and the unforgiving weather systems that swirl over the shores of Lake Superior.

Dotted with cut window openings throughout the six-story tower, every angle offered a unique view. On the ground tower inserted into the wall next to the stairway is the Enger Observation Tower Marker dedicated to the memory of Bert J. Enger – Native of Norway, Citizen of Duluth.

The Back Story
The Enger observation tower story is that of a common immigrant laborer, Bert J. Enger, who left a legacy fit for royalty to the City of Duluth over an eight-year period.

Born in Hamar, Norway in 1864, Enger immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 13, although records do not indicate if he journeyed alone. He traveled the Midwest working on farms and sawmills in Wisconsin, iron mines in Michigan and northern Minnesota, and the wheat fields of the Dakotas. At some point, he lived on a farm in small town Pine City, Minnesota, approximately 88 miles south of Duluth. It was here that Enger met a business partner, and the two opened a successful furniture store in Duluth.

The former immigrant turned U.S. citizen demonstrated through his own life what so many immigrants fought for and believed in: America was a land of opportunity for an immigrant.Bert Enger

In 1920, Enger anonymously donated $50,000 to the City of Duluth that it might purchase 350 acres of land for a proposed golf course and park for public use. Discovering Enger was the benefactor, Duluth’s city council named the park after him. He continued to share his fortune with the city over the next decade.

Enger, a lifetime bachelor, suffered a stroke and died in 1931. His estate, which he had divided into thirds, bequeathed two-thirds toward a memorial project (Enger Tower), which Enger stipulated was to be “a suitable building on top of the bluff near the Twin Ponds in Enger Park, in the nature of a lookout station, built to accommodate tourists visiting Enger Park.” Around the structure, he directed “that the grounds be beautified and foot paths from all directions leading up to the building on the hilltop be constructed, and a parking space for automobiles be constructed below the paths. The paths are to be accessible to pedestrians only.”Enger-tower-sign

Enger further stipulated that his body be cremated and the ashes placed somewhere in the memorial building. His wishes were granted. Enger Tower was completed in 1939 and dedicated in June that year by Olav, Crown Prince of Norway and his wife Crown Princess Martha, honoring the native Norwegian whose vision and life in America proved that life indeed held enormous opportunities for immigrants. As a fitting testimony, more than 5,000 people attended the dedication.

Should you find yourself in the Twin Port city, regardless of the time of year, plan a short hike up to Enger Tower – open year round – and capture for yourself the breathtaking views.

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Kakopetria Village: Beauty, Serenity and Tragedy

Kakopetria (Greek for place of stones) is one of those villages brimming with history and begging to be explored.

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Nestled into the side of the Troodos Mountain some 2200 feet high and surrounded by thick forest, Kakopetria is the highest village in the Solea Valley. The Troodos Mountain was formed from an explosion of a volcano in the area. When the lava stopped, it became solid.looking-toward-sea-from-Kakopetria

The higher our tour bus crept hugging the heavily vegetated roadside, the more I felt I was shifting further into the center of the earth. It’s difficult to describe the beauty and serenity – and, of course, photos never do justice – but try to imagine the lush green vegetation popping in and out of a forest of pine trees, majestic oaks and even wild olive trees. Hillside terracing spotlights various fruit-bearing trees, such as apple, pear, plum, cherry, apricot and fig that the villagers grow and cultivate.

waterfall-in-KakopetriaA gentle waterfall spilling into the basin within the old village offers melodic serenity and natural beauty. The village was built on the banks of two rivers, which join in the center of the 1500-inhabitant 14th Century village. A hike to the top of the village provides the most beautiful vista of the surrounding landscape as far as one can see. In fact, on a clear day the sea is visible off in the distance.

The entire village is under the protection of the Department of Antiquities requiring special permission if homeowners want to change the exterior appearance of their home. The village’s uniqueness are the narrow crooked lanes mostly impassable by car, and the distinct home construction. The lower portions are constructed with stones while the upper part with clay, mud and bricks. The houses all have tiled roofs and wooden balconies. I found the architecture very appealing.cool-architecture

Almost half way up the steep main street, we came upon the nondescript Church of the Transfiguration. We spent a few minutes inside the small church lighting a candle and snapping a few photos of the interior. I was surprised that even in this tiny remote village, the Greek Orthodox Church also boasted an impressive interior of iconostases. The elderly nun inside knew no English making it impossible to learn anything about the church.church-in-Kokopetria

Back out on the slippery and uneven stone-cobbled road, we walked past numerous winding side lanes the width of a bicycle path and not much more. I can imagine how easily it would be to get turned around if you were trying to find someone’s home. Fortunately for one enterprising homeowner, visitors searching for Irene’s house have a sign indicating the way. Lush green foliage and multi-hued flowers dotted the lanes and flower boxes adding color to the mostly shaded homes. Homeowners lucky enough to have room for a carport utilized the space to grow their own grapes.Irene's-house

There is another reason why this charming village has gained notoriety. Anchored at the start of the climb upward to the residential area is the famous Stone of the Couple. Following an ancient pagan custom of honoring Aphrodite, the goddess of love, newlyweds performed a ceremony by walking around the stone and making a wish. One couple was crushed to death when they lost their footing and tumbled down the rocky incline. From then on, the rock became known as the Stone of the Couple, although locals often refer to it as the Bad Stone. Even today a few couples honor the custom. Eleni, our tour guide, explained that many Cypriots continued to practice pagan customs after the advent of Christianity as many of these practices were deeply rooted in Greek mythology.stone-of-the-couple

Kakopetria is a popular summer and winter resort since its location offers visitors a respite from the sun-scorched temperatures of the large cities, most notably Nicosia, Cyprus’ largest city, an hour or so drive down the mountain. In the wintertime, the mountains are snow-laden offering outdoor activities popular with Cypriots. On weekends, people flock to the village and its handful of hotels are fully booked.

Wandering the narrow lanes and catching glimpses of older Kakopetrians in their windows and doorways smiling as we passed was an enjoyable reconnection with simplicity.

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Celebrating Palestinian Heritage in Doha, Qatar

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Bathed in black, the jubilant men methodically made their way in my direction amid drumming, clapping and shouts of well wishes. As they came into view, the groom was quickly hoisted up onto the shoulders of two men in the wedding procession while the bride, the only woman, followed behind. Garbed in a white traditional gown with a red patterned bodice and wearing a matching red and white headscarf dotted with jewelry pieces dangling against her forehead, the Palestinian bride took her place in the spotlight alongside her husband-to-be. The audience in the overflowing room of now standing-only spectators was about to witness the enactment of a traditional Palestinian wedding. The dozen male performers, heads swathed in the commonly wrapped black and white checkered scarves securely tied in the back, enthusiastically danced reminiscent of a New York chorus line. It was an incredible experience.

The wedding enactment was just one of the highlights of the inaugural Palestinian Heritage Week recently held at Katara the Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar, and co-sponsored by Katara and the Qatar-Palestinian Friendship Association.Image

In addition to the live wedding enactment, the Ibdaa Palestinian Troupe, who were featured in the wedding, performed 30 minutes’ worth of lively and high energy folk dances. “This traditional folk dance extends for numerous years and features holding of hands to reflect the unity and solidarity of Palestinians,” explained the festival organizer.

Ibdaa, which means ‘to create something out of nothing’, is a grassroots initiative of Dheisheh Refugee Camp. Founded in 1995, Ibdaa reportedly serves more than 1500 children and young people annually through various programs, while providing job opportunities to more than 60 families in the Palestinian camp.

Ibdaa’s mission is to provide an environment for the camp’s children and young people to develop their ability, creativity and leadership skills through social, cultural and educational activities that are not readily available in the camp. It strives to empower the children and instill in them confidence and strength to face their difficult future, while educating the international community on the Palestinian refugee issue.

The Ibdaa troupe performs dance pieces that tell the history, struggle and aspiration of Palestinian refugees by intertwining debkeh traditional Palestinian dance, and theatrical choreography. This traditional folk dance has existed for many years and is recognized by the holding of hands to reflect the Palestinians’ unity and solidarity.

The Askalan Palestinian Band took to the stage next singing folk songs. Their music featured keyboards, vocalists, background singers and an electric oud. A male and female singer took turns belting out traditional songs with uncanny passion. Although everything was in Arabic, and I was at a loss to know the story and meaning behind the song’s lyrics, it was a very moving performance.

Handicrafts
As part of the weeklong event, an artisanal exhibition highlights homemade crafts, such as silver jewelry created from olive leaves (a symbol of peace), mother of pearl pieces including a large replica of “Dome of the Rock”, glass blown products, ceramic items and floor tiles, olive oil soap, time-honored embroidered clothing and tapestries, and crafts made from olive tree wood. Most of the embroidery work, including abayas, scarves, accessories and bags, features traditional Palestinian embroidery, known as tatriz, which is produced through a woman’s collective.

The eclectic fusion of blue, green, brown and turquoise colored glass products caught my attention. I quickly purchased two beautiful and delicately-appearing matching goblets. The twin wine glasses make a stunning conversation piece and are heavy and well made. Though non-dishwasher safe because of the glass content, they will withstand steady use and future moves.

The collective at Ibdaa Cultural Center in West Bank provides an alternative income source to the families. It also strives to preserve the ancient cultural heritage that has been passed down through generations of Palestinian mothers and daughters. Women from West Bank and Gaza have made all of the products displayed.Image

As part of Adel Fair Trade initiative, Palestinians are striving to build an economy under occupation. Adel is a pioneer national marketing program supporting products and cooperatives of marginalized families in terms of fair trade and fair price principles for both producers and consumers with the goal of improving their economic situation.

Some of the Palestinian-made products available to sample and for sale included olive oil, olive paste, makdous (stuffed baby eggplants mixed with nuts), atayeb, a dried tomato and olive mixture using all non-chemical ingredients, which we purchased, sheep cheese, red chili sauce, sweet pumpkin jam, natural honey, grape molasses and various whole wheat and couscous products along with an array of dried spices, and an impressive and mouth-watering selection of sweets, such as harissa and kanafeh. All of the Palestinian recipes are passed through generations, authentic and grown and produced using local raw materials free of unsafe and unhealthy chemical ingredients and preservatives. Information passed out claims the product’s standards match international and national standards.

Emad Abu Zuluf, chairman of the Palestinian-Qatari Friendship Association explained to the press that apart from strengthening relations between Palestine and Qatar, the association has been instrumental in becoming a bridge that has facilitated cultural communication by sharing and promoting its culture.

The music was upbeat, the audience multinational, and the evening highly entertaining and educational. Seeking out other nationalities and learning about their cultures is one of the great rewards of being an expat in a foreign country. It is a journey of constant discovery.

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The Many Colors of Turkish Art & Culture

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Centuries old art forms and textiles. Traditional shadow puppetry and children’s games. Music, dance, Turkish coffee and ethnic food. It was a showcase of everything made in Turkey. And it was all displayed in grandeur at the inaugural Turkish Festival held at Katara the Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar this past April.

Turkey has an undisputable rich cultural heritage, particularly in music, dance, and various performing arts. Historical evidence points to the influences of several empires as the reason, in particular, the flamboyant Ottoman Empire’s legacy, but has European influences as well.

Turkish Art
Turkish art is a combination of various forms of Turkish culture. It broadly refers to paintings, architecture, literature and other fine art forms.

Silk painting represents the synthesis of Turkey’s eastern and western cultures. Inspired by Turkish motifs, silk painting embellishes wood, marble and traditional Turkish and Ottoman motifs on silk scarves by brush with trademark Turkish colors.

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Turkey is famous for its Iznik tiles, dating back some five centuries, the beautiful raw quartz found locally in Iznik. It takes about 40 days to make one tile, since they are all handmade. The process involves pounding the quartz into powder, then forming them into squares. The tiles are then heated, designed, contoured and, finally, colored. At first, blue and white were the prevailing colors in the pots and wall tiles in this category. During the 16th century, turquoise was introduced. The embossed red of the wall tiles in Istanbul’s Süleymaniye Mosque (1555) marks the peak of Ottoman tiles and ceramics, as red is very rare and difficult to colorize. Almost every Turkish mosque and palace prominently features tile works while many homes also showcase tile.

Paper marbling, an art of ornamentation, was an important branch of both art and business during the Ottoman reign, and remains popular today in Turkey. The ornamentation patterns result from specially prepared colored dyes floated on water and then carefully transferred onto paper or fabric. Methods include ink brushes and straws to fan the colors into patterns resembling smooth marble. Marbling was widely used in book covers and stationery.Image

Calligraphy, another visual art, utilizes a highly decorative and beautiful writing style. It was significant throughout the world and preceded typography and the printing press. Many exquisite examples were on display.

Eye dazzling jewelry and engraved handmade silver platters, taking two months from start to finish, were also showcased in the Turkish Grand Bazaar.

Similar to the Turkish culture that has become rich and influenced by several empires and their own set of practices, Turkish clothing also has a rich tradition of its own. Many interesting styles adorned a full wall.

Shadow puppetry was extensively highlighted along with an area designated for children to color puppets. Turkish children have grown up watching this unique type of puppetry, which according to display information indicates stories of Aladdin and other fairy tales. The puppets dance on sticks behind a wall of thin veil fabric. A screen and table is set up in the dark with enough light to cast shadows on the puppets. The audience can actually see the shadows, but cannot see the hand behind them.

Historically, the two lead characters of Turkey’s traditional adult shadow play puppetry are Karagoz, who symbolizes the illiterate but practical public, and Hacivat, a level-headed member of the educated class. The central theme of the plays is the contrasting interaction between the two directed toward an adult audience. Today, these humorous plays are more closely associated with Eid and are in a “toned down” form intended for children. It is unclear when the plays were first performed, but have been documented at least during the 14th to 15th centuries. What is known, however, is that the puppetry art form was being performed well before the advent of electricity.

Mehteran Band Music
We anxiously waited for the start of the musical portion of the festival that did not get underway until after 7 p.m. First up was the popular Mehteran. Just as they were getting settled onto the stage, the power tripped and all went dark. They began playing to a delighted crowd anyway.

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In Ottoman, mehteran means band. Ottoman military bands are thought to be the oldest variety of military marching band in the world. Modern day military marching bands got their start after being modeled by the mehteran bands sometime in the 16th century. Today, Mehteran band music is largely ceremonial and considered by most Turks as an example of heroism and a reminder of Turkey’s historical past.

The performance was very good, and the male band wore colorful traditional robes wrapped in colorful silks and high ribbed hats that were flared at the top. The group played interesting and unfamiliar instruments. The standard instruments used are the giant timpani, which is a large hemispherical brass or copper percussion instrument with a drumhead (the flat surface of a drum that has leather stretched over it); a small kettle drum, bass drum, cymbals, zurna, a reed-type wind instrument; a kind of trumpet and the cevgen, a type of stick bearing small concealed bells.

Turkish Dance and Music
Another important and inseparable part of the rich Turkish heritage is dance, which consists of several forms.

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The Folklore Dance Ensemble performed later in the evening, and unfortunately, we were unable to stay for it. (Photo is courtesy of the local newspaper.) Reportedly, this group performs in colorful authentic national dress based on their region in Turkey playing folk instruments with a goal to preserve folk culture in a pure form so generations may appreciate and become familiar with this tradition. A hallmark of Turkish dance performances is their variety and “immaculate choreography”. These dances feature a variety of tempos, such as very slow and then very fast.

Turkish music is divided into two major groups: classical and folk. Classical is actually the Ottoman music that is associated with the higher society that has developed through centuries. Military music is a form of classical music.

The Turkish World’s Music Ensemble concert was a third musical offering of the evening, which we also missed. These musicians played music from all seven districts of Turkey, and newspaper reviews reported that there were costume changes with every region and their moves and choreography showed almost no repetition.

Although it was disappointing that the two music ensembles didn’t start until very late in the evening, overall, the entire Turkish Festival was a wonderful time and the enthusiastic crowds in obvious agreement.

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A Tradition of Hospitality Still Exists Today in the Arab Culture

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Bedouins traveling with their camels throughout the desert needed enough water to reach the next well. To refuse a traveler refreshment in such a place as the desolate desert is to let him die; to threaten the openhandedness nomadic peoples must depend on to survive.

Nomadic traveling in the harsh desert climate necessitated the need for water. Bedouins have always been welcomed when stopping for water. That tradition continues today. The Arab Bedouin culture of hospitality is as strong today as it was in the past.

In many areas of Doha, especially the traditional Bedouin areas, water spigots are lined along the sidewalks for laborers and anyone else needing a refreshing cup of water. This is in addition to all mosques that have the water stations where Muslims will wash their hands and feet before entering the mosque to pray.Image

I’ve seen many water “stations” in various forms both in Bahrain and here in Qatar.

Because we live in a former Bedouin neighborhood, there are numerous stations – at least one per block – on area streets. So the other day, I decided to take a few photos of them.

I came across one that resembled old earthenware pottery, while the majority are “modern contraptions” mounted on a wall. Some are relatively primitive and in poor condition, while others more decorative and modern.

All of these are within a 10-block radius of our Doha compound. An interesting bit of culture. Enjoy!

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Celebrating a Cultural Heritage: Doha’s Traditional Dhow Festival

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Daylight was precious. Shrouded in darkness, men shuffled onto their respective dhows, ready to embark upon another day of fishing. If pearl diving, they would be absent for months.

Hundreds of years ago, this scene played out from Africa to India and points in between where fishermen, pearl divers and traders relied on the dhow as the main sailing vessel for their livelihoods. Now thirteen centuries later, Qatari residents are celebrating one of their heritage’s most striking symbols and traditions.  Katara’s Second Traditional Dhow Festival – held over three days in mid-November – is bringing together young and old, Arab and expat – at Katara Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar to share and learn about the brave men of the past, their secrets of the sea, and the important role dhows played in Gulf history.

Visitors discovered the story of the dhow, saw vessels showcased with 13 different types of dhows from across the Gulf, visited exhibitions and museum displays, had the opportunity to attend a series of lectures on the dhow trade, watched traditional performers, witnessed the building of a dhow, and toured the mighty vessels docked in the bay.

“The festival pays homage to our ancestors who worked effortlessly to build a future,” explained festival committee manager Ahmed al Hitmi. “This event provides a platform for cultural exchange, promoting Qatari history, educating and promoting our legacy with Qatari youth. We also thank the honorable men who dedicated their lives to diving in the seas in search of pearls.”

At the start of the 20th century, statistics indicate almost 13,000 men worked from over 800 dhows. Expat visitors and young people had an excellent opportunity to hear about a real slice of this life during the region’s pre-oil era and learn about a difficult and hardworking lifestyle; an integral part of a man’s life that was linked with the sea. The dhow has become one of the Gulf Regions’ most striking symbols.

Military exercises and bands delighted the more than 1,000 spectators as part of the opening ceremonies. Crowded sail masts punctured the late afternoon sky as hundreds of men, women and children carefully boarded various sized dhows to see them firsthand, take photos, and to learn more about the important role these boats played in the Gulf countries’ livelihoods.

Many Gulf families can trace their history to the coastal dwellers. Life on the sea was harsh – thousands were dependent on the weather, knowing where to find fish, the captain’s skills in locating the best oyster beds, and the divers for their skills and courage in the face of ever-present danger. Storms could sometimes sink boats and the crew drown – a catastrophe for entire communities. No one doubted the value and significance of the water.

The Pearling Sea Culture
For thousands of years, natural pearls were valued for their beauty and scarcity.

Pearling was an important backbone of the economies for Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Once the Japanese discovered and perfected cultured pearls in the 1930s, the pearl industry began to vanish. Ironically, one source of sea sustenance gave way to another. Now it’s the exploitation of rich undersea hydrocarbon deposits – and in other cases crude oil – that has brought wealth and prosperity, particularly to Qatar.

Spending up to six months on the sea, most men were forced to take loans for provisions for families at home to live on while the breadwinner was gone. And there were no guarantees a diver or crewmember could make enough to pay off his loan.

Under the captain, each dhow had a complex division of labor; pearl divers, men to pull the divers up; extra crew to help; and apprentices who did the chores. Each boat also had a lead singer, as music was an important component. There were two shifts; one group constantly singing and playing percussion instruments to encourage the others.

Divers made anywhere from 10 to 50 dives per day depending on their skill level – from 1 to 1 ½ minutes each – breaking only for midday prayers.

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They wore shirts and inserted wax earplugs. What little equipment they needed consisted of tortoise shell nose clips and finger stalls to protect their fingers from sharp coral, rough shells and the occasional poisonous dragon fish encountered. In some areas, they greased their bodies to conserve heat.

To reach the sweet water seabed quickly, divers placed one foot into a looped rope with a lead weight while a second rope was fastened around the waist. A tug on the rope alerted the man on board that the diver wanted to return to the surface. Most divers worked at a depth of 8-10 fathoms (48-60 feet) – only the most skilled could manage 14 fathoms (84 feet) – all of these depths life-threatening.

They clinched a small bag or wire basket around their neck, in which they placed the oysters. The oysters were then emptied onto the deck after each dive until the diving ended just prior to sunset. After dawn prayers, the unopened oysters, left untouched overnight, were pried apart.

Crew used small knives with curved blades to work open the shell, always under the captain’s watchful eye, as divers resumed their search. It was not unusual to open more than a ton of oysters just to find three or four quality pearls. The captain kept the pearls in safekeeping for the merchants until they returned to the village. Meticulous logs were kept, and merchants paid out based upon pearl size, weight and quality.

The captain and crew divided up the money the merchants had paid according to a strict format. Sometimes the men barely earned enough to cover their loans. The merchants, however, often became wealthy.

Dhow Construction
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Dhow shipbuilding is an ancient trade. There were many different types of dhows, as spectators saw at the Dhow Festival; however, almost all of them had a triangular sail. A second distinctive feature was its sail construction. A fully stitched construction was unique to African, Indian and Middle East dhows. Sewing the plank boards together with fibers, cords or thongs made stitched boats. The lumber used mainly came from Africa in the form of mahogany and teak.

As the sun sets over the calm water, the majestic dhows spontaneously lit up the evening sky in gorgeous shades of red and blue. Regional musicians entertained throngs of spectators with traditional music while children played in the soft sand and parents rested on benches chatting with one another.  Expats lingered within the cultural village stalls learning more about dhow construction, pearls and the pearling trade, traditional handicrafts and oral storytelling.

What a difference a few centuries can make.

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Settlements That Time Forgot: Qatar’s Al Zubarah Fort and Settlements

ImageAl Zubarah Fort is a testament to Qatar’s modest past. Reconnecting with simplicity, the small stone fort with its simple lines and four symmetric corner turrets, the once fortified structure tucked away in northwestern Qatar’s desert and coast overlooks a desolate, windswept landscape. Sprinkled nearby are abandoned villages cordoned off for future archaeological exploration.

Situated 105 km (65 miles) from Doha, Qatar’s capital city, and as part of a sun-scorched landscape, the fort is located within the boundaries of the ancient, deserted town of Zubarah. The original structure was constructed in this area due to Zubarah’s importance as a thriving pearl fishing and trading port positioned midway between the Strait of Hormuz and the west arm of the Persian Gulf.

Built upon the ancient ruins of another site, Zubarah Fort was commissioned by Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani in 1938 as a Coast Guard station and to guard against sea intruders. Transformed into a museum in the 1990s, it is currently undergoing a major renovation. A hallmark of the fort is the old cannon located outside the front gate.

Research indicates that the fort walls were constructed by blending overlapping chunks of limestone with a mortar and pestle mixture specifically designed for grinding mud. The protective compressed mud roof provided shade and coolness for its military occupants.

The fort has three corners each with massive circular towers used for defense, while the fourth rectangular tower was more for aesthetics. The original eight ground floor rooms accommodated the solders with a connecting external wood staircase to reach the upper floors and roof. It is typical of early Gulf fortifications.

As a project of the Qatar Islamic Archaeology and Heritage Project, current renovations are using traditional construction techniques and materials wherever possible to repair the cracked walls, replace rotted timbers, repair and strengthen the walkways, and install a new stairway in one of the corner towers. Project completion is sometime in 2013.

Zubarah Town History
Between 1775 and 1780, Persians were attacking Basra, Iraq forcing merchant families to flee the southern Iraqi city. Many of these families fled to Al Zubarah. The town grew and thrived until Omani forces attacked and burned it in 1811. After a period of abandonment, the town was rebuilt and resettled in the late 1820s. It was again destroyed in a siege in September 1878.

A large wall was built along the shoreline and defended by 22 semi-circular towers placed at regular intervals. Town access was limited to a few defended gateways from the landside or its harbor. There was no sea wall, just the stout fort that defended the main landing area on the beach. At its height, the town’s population was between 6,000 and 9,000 people.

Zubarah was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage “tentative list” in 2008, and since 2009, the site has been the subject of research and development as a protected heritage site. Archaeological excavations have uncovered the foundations of the city walls, revealing the bases of numerous watchtowers, residential dwellings, artifacts and evidence of some limited cottage industries.

Although the Zubarah town site is closed to the public while archaeological digs are ongoing, another abandoned town site – Ean Mohamed – was accessible.

ImageEan Mohamed
Abandoned villages along the coastline feature simple, one-room structures of mud brick or coral rock, roofed with mangrove poles once covered with a layer of palm-leaf matting and coated with mud, formerly the homes of fishermen and pearlers.

Officially known as Site No. 780402, no access or exploration was permitted, according to the large erected sign.  But with no one around in this part of the Qatar desert, Ean Mohamed begged to be “explored”, so I wandered around and through the abandoned site like a young child on a scavenger hunt.

There were no huge surprises; the palm frond roofs had long ago rotted away and the stone foundations were crumbling while those with cement foundations stood structurally sound. Most everything inside had either dirt floors or cracked cement floors and rocks. It didn’t appear as though any excavation had begun, which made for fun “exploration” of the desolate ghost town.

Wooden doors and woven roofs were long gone and debris strewn about the desert floor with indications of late night bonfires. I almost expected to discover evidence of squatters, but I did not.

The town site was surprisingly large with many structures still standing; not in crumbling stages, indicating that this abandoned town probably dates to the 20th century. The stone foundation structures bore a much earlier lineage.

The daylong excursion to Qatar’s northwestern portion of the country was interesting and time well spent. Although self-guided, it was fun to explore and imagine what life was like for these villagers prior to the discovery of oil and gas.

 

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