The famous Zubarah Fort found in Zubarah.
Geographical location of Zubarah.
Madinat ash Shamal in Qatar.
|Municipality||Madinat ash Shamal|
|• Total||4.6 km2 (1.8 sq mi)|
|• Land||4 km2 (2 sq mi)|
Zubarah (Arabic: الزبارة), also called Al Zubarah or Az Zubarah, is a deserted town located on the north western coast of the Qatar peninsula in the Madinat ash Shamal municipality, about 105 km from the Qatari capital of Doha. The town was founded by merchants from Kuwait in the mid 18th century.
Zubarah was once a successful center of global trade and pearl fishing positioned midway between the Strait of Hormuz and the west arm of the Persian Gulf. It is one of the largest and best preserved examples of an 18th-19th century merchant town in the Gulf. The entire layout and urban fabric of a settlement dating to this formative period in the region has been preserved as no other similar place in the Persian Gulf. Zubarah provides an important insight into urban life, spatial organization, and the social and economic history of the Gulf before the discovery of oil and gas in the 20th century.
Covering an area of circa 400 hectares (60 hectares inside the outer town wall), Zubarah is Qatar’s most substantial archaeological site. The site comprises the fortified town with a later inner and an earlier outer wall, a harbour, a sea canal, two screening walls, the fort of Murair, and the more recent Zubarah Fort.
- 1 History
- 2 Attractions
- 3 Tourism
- 4 Sports
- 5 Archaeology and conservation
- 6 Sovereignty disputes
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
The name 'Zubarah' is derived from the Arabic word for sand mounds. It was presumably given this name due its abundance of sand and stony hillocks. During the early Islamic period, trade and commerce boomed in northern Qatar. Settlements began to appear on the coast, primarily between the towns of Zubarah and Umm al-Ma'a. A village dating back to the Islamic period was discovered in the proximity of Zubarah.
Between September 1627 and April 1628, a Portuguese naval squadron led by Captain Goncalo da Silveira set fire to a number of coastal villages. Zubarah's growth during this period is attributed to the dislodging of people from other nearby settlements. The main settlers of the town were from the Al Musallam tribe, deriving from the Bani Khalid of Arabia. The country was ruled by the Al Musallam in 1555 according to Ottoman records. They eventually became tributary to the other branches of Bani Khalid as the latter expanded their domain eastwards in the first half of the eighteenth century.
There remains some uncertainty over the earliest mention of Zubarah in written documents. Sources assert that people of the Utub tribe from Kuwait settled at Zubarah in the second half of the eighteenth century, possibly in 1766, building a large town characterized by a safe harbour, thereby creating one of the principal emporiums and pearl trading centres of the Persian Gulf in the later 18th Century.
Relations declined gradually between the Al Khalifa branch of the Utub and the ruling tribe, Al Musallam. This culminated in the former's refusal to pay taxes. They also expanded their settlements, and constructed walls and a fort called Qal'at Murair (Murair Castle), which was completed by 1768. In addition to Qal'at Murair, there existed other forts and towers in the town which were built by earlier settlers.
The town came to be monopolized by the Al Khalifa after they had effectually driven out the Al-Musallam. Under their jurisdiction, the town came to develop trade links with India, Oman, Iraq and Kuwait. Many goods were transported through its ports, including dates, spices and metals. The town soon became a favorite transit point for traders after the Al Khalifa abolished trade taxes. The town's prosperity further increased after the 1775–76 Persian occupation of Basra when merchants and other refugees fleeing from Basra settled in Zubarah.
A quarrel arose between the inhabitants of Persian-ruled Bahrain and Zubarah in 1782. Zubarah natives travelled to Bahrain to buy some wood, but an altercation broke out and an Utub sheikh's slave was killed in the ensuing chaos. The Utub and other Arab tribes retaliated on 9 September by plundering and destroying Manama. A battle was fought between the two sides and several lives were lost. They came back to Zubarah after three days, returning with a Persian gallivat which was previously used to collect annual treaty. On 1 October, Ali Murad Khan ordered the sheikh of Bahrain to prepare an expedition on Zubarah and sent to him reinforcements from the Persian mainland.
The Persians arrived in Bahrain by December with around 2,000 men and invaded the town of Zubarah on 17 May 1783. After suffering defeat in the ensuing battle, the Persians withdrew their arms and retreated to their ships. An Utub naval fleet en route from Kuwait to Bahrain arrived the same day and set Manama ablaze. The Persian forces returned to the mainland to recruit troops for another attack, but their garrisons in Bahrain were ultimately overrun by the Utub. Despite the instability surrounding Zubarah, it flourished as a trading centre and its port grew to be larger than that of Qatif's by 1790.
Early town (late 18th century)
The town came under threat by the Wahhabi in the late eighteenth century after many refugees from Al-Hasa settled in Zubarah. The Wahhabi worried that the population of Zubarah would conspire against the regime in Al-Hasa with the help of the Bani Khalid. They also believed that its residents practiced teachings contrary to the Wahhabi doctrine, and regarded the town as an important gateway between the east and west. Sulaiman ibn Ufaisan led a raid against Qatar in 1792 and subjugated the region's population. The local chieftains were allowed to continue carrying out administrative tasks but were required to pay a tax.
A large wall was built in the late-18th-century town and its bay in a 2.5 km arc from shore to shore. The wall was defended by 22 semi-circular towers placed at regular intervals. Access to the town was limited to a few defended gateways from the landside, or via its harbour. There was no sea wall, but a stout fort defended the main landing area on the sandy beach.
Zubarah was at that time a well-organised town, with many of the streets running at right angles to one another and some neighbourhoods built according to a strict grid pattern. This layout suggests that the town was laid out and built as part of a major event, although seemingly constructed in closely dated stages.
An estimate of the population at the height of the town has been calculated to a maximum number of between 6,000 and 9,000 people.
Architecture and layout
Domestic architecture at Zubarah consisted mainly of courtyard houses, a traditional form of Arabic architecture which can be found throughout the Middle East. A series of small rooms were organized around a large central courtyard, where the majority of daily activity took place. Typically, a portico opened out onto the courtyard on the south side, which offered shelter from the sun. The houses of Zubarah were constructed from soft local stone, protected by a thick gypsum plaster coating. Features such as doorways and niches were decorated with geometric stucco designs. Housing units were accessable by a doorway and a bent corridor, in order to avert unauthorized viewing into the household and prevent sand from blowing into the house.
A large number of date-presses (madbassat) are found in houses throughout the town. They are small rooms with ridged plastered floors sloping to one corner where a jar would have been placed. Dates were packed in sacks and placed on the floor with weights on top to squeeze out the date juice - a sweet sticky syrup (dibs). The jar would collect and preserve the syrup for later consumption or use in cooking. In 2014, a site was excavated which revealed the largest yet-discovered date-pressing site in the country and region. There were 27 date presses found overall, including 11 found in one lone complex.
The most impressive and colossal of the building complexes measures 110 m x 100 m in size. This structure follows the same form as the domestic architecture seen elsewhere in Zubarah, but on a much grander scale. Nine interconnected compounds, each comprising a courtyard surrounded by a range of rooms, made up the interior of this structure. Plaster stucco decoration was used to embellish internal entrances and rooms. The discovery of internal staircases indicates that the compounds were multi-storeyed. The nine compounds of the complex were enclosed by a high circuit wall with circular towers at the four corners, each of which were capable of supporting a small cannon.
The size and visual dominance of the palatial compound suggests that it was occupied by a family of wealthy and powerful sheikhs who were community leaders in the social and economic life of the town.
Traces of what seems to be tent placements and/or palm-leaf and palm-matt huts found near the beach may be associated with transient members of the Zubaran society. It is likely that these interim dwellings housed the people who were the primary producers of Zubarah’s wealth: the pearl fishers and mariners who harvested the pearl banks each season.
A complex array of small storage rooms have been identified as part of the souq (market) of Zubarah. The wide variety of trade objects that have been found in the rooms points towards the area's classification as a place of trade. The souq would have been the centre of the town and of its economy. Various commodities, including ironsmithing, were sold at this souq. Archaeological supervisor Mike House claims its presenceis indicative of the efforts made by the Zubarans to diversify their economy.
A brief instance after the foundation of Zubarah, two screening walls were constructed from the outer town wall toward Qal`at Murair. These two walls, oriented east-west, include round towers placed at regular intervals, which strengthened their defensive capabilities. The screening walls likely served to secure the transportation of water from the wells inside Qal`at Murair to Zubarah. In the harsh, hot summers of the Persian Gulf, water was a most valuable and beneficial commodity. The walls also channeled general traffic to and fro the town over open salt flats.
Zubarah was primarily an emporium and pearling settlement that capitalized on its proximity to pearl beds, possession of a large harbour and its central position on the Gulf routes. Its economy depended on the pearl diving season, which took place during the long summer months. Pearling would draw Bedouin from the interior of Qatar as well as the people from all over the Persian Gulf to dive, trade and safeguard the town from attack while the town’s men were at sea.
Boats from Zubarah would sail out to the pearl beds found all along the southern shore of the Persian Gulf, from Bahrain to the United Arab Emirates. The trips lasted several weeks at a time. Men would work in pairs to harvest mollusks potentially hiding pearls inside them. A man would dive for about a minute and the other remained on the ship to pull the diver back to safety with his harvest.
The archaeological evidence for pearling on site comes primarily from the tools used by the divers such, as pearl boxes, diving weights, and small measuring weights used during trading.
Until the introduction of the cultured pearl, and prior to the exploitation of oil and gas, the trade in pearls constituted the Persian Gulf’s most important industry, employing up to a third of the male population in the region. Zubarah, being one of the focal pearling and trading towns, has contributed to the geopolitical, social, and cultural trajectories of recent Gulf history, which shape the region today.
Ceramics, coins, and the remains of foodstuffs from the excavations attest to Zubarah’s far reaching trade and economic links in the late 18th century, with material deriving from eastern Asia, Persia, the Ottoman Empire, Africa, Europe, and the Persian Gulf. Diving weights and other material culture show how closely the connection between the daily life in the town and the pearl fishing and trading were. The discovery of coffee cups and tobacco pipes in the excavations reveal the growing importance of these commodities all over the Persian Gulf during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The etching of a merchant’s dhow, the traditional wooden boat of Arabia, found incised into the plaster in a room of a courtyard building, details how intimately the town's inhabitants associated their daily lives with long-distance maritime trade and commerce.
Later developments and decline (19th century)
The town was occupied by the Wahhabi in 1909. After the Wahhabi amir was made aware of advancements by hostile Egyptian troops on the western frontier in 1811, he reduced his garrisons in Bahrain and Zubarah in order to re-position his troops. Said bin Sultan of Muscat capitalized on this opportunity and attacked the Wahhabi garrisons in the western peninsula. The fort in Zubarah was set ablaze and the Al Khalifa were effectively returned to power. Following the attack, the town was abandoned for a short period. Recent archaeological discoveries show that the town may have been abandoned shortly before the 1811 attack. Eventually, it was resettled again in the late 1820s. It remained a pearl fishing community, but on a significantly smaller scale than previously.
This reconstructed town barely covered 20% of its predecessor. A new town wall was constructed much closer to the shore than the earlier town wall. It seems that this phase of Zubarah was not as organized in the layout of the streets and its buildings. Houses were still built in the traditional courtyard form, but on a smaller scale and more irregular in their shape. Additionally, evidence of decorated plaster known from earlier buildings were not found in the newly constructed buildings.
From c. 1810 onwards, the British Empire became more influential in the Persian Gulf area, stationing political agents in various ports and cities to protect their trading routes. In one of the first descriptions of the salient towns in Qatar, Major Colebrook described Zubarah as such in 1820:
- "protected by a tower and occupied at present merely for the security of fishermen that frequent it. It has a Khor (creek) with three fathoms water which Buggalahs may enter."
Captain George Barnes Brucks also gave his own account of Zubarah just four years later. He stated:
- "(it was) a large town, now in ruins. It is situated in a bay, and has been, before it was destroyed, a place of considerable trade."
Al Khalifa contention
On 16 August 1873, assistant political resident Charles Grant falsely reported that the Ottomans sent a contingent of 100 troops from Qatif to Zubarah under the command of Hossein Effendi. The emir of Bahrain reacted strongly to this because the Naim tribe residing in Zubarah previously signed a treaty agreeing to be subjects of his. Upon being questioned by the emir, Grant referred him to political resident Edward Ross. Ross informed the sheikh that he believed he had no right to protect tribes residing in Qatar. In September, the emir reiterated his sovereignty over the town and the Naim tribe. Grant replied by arguing that there was no special mention of the Naim or Zubarah in any treaties signed with Bahrain. A government official agreed with his views and concurred "that it was desirable that the Chief of Bahrain should, as far as practicable abstain from interfering in complications on the mainland."
The Al Khalifa saw another chance to renew their claim on the town in 1874. An opposition leader named Nasir bin Mubarak who moved to Qatar was seen as a direct threat by the Al Khalifa. They believed that Mubarak, with the assistance of Jassim bin Mohammed, would attack the Naim living in Zubarah as a prelude to an invasion. Hence, a body of Bahraini reinforcements were sent to Zubarah, much to the disapproval of the British who suggested that the emir was involving himself in complications. Edward Ross made it apparent that a government council decision advised the sheikh that he should not interfere in the affairs of Qatar. The Al Khalifa remained in consistent contact with the Naim. They drafted 100 members of the tribe in their army and offered some financial assistance.
In 1878, after its inhabitants engaged in piracy, the British sacked the town with the consent of emir Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani. There were reports in 1888 that Jassim intended to restore the city so that it could serve as a base for his son-in-law to to attack Bahrain, but he renounced his plans after being warned by the British. There was a dispute between the Ottomans and Bahrain, which was supported by the British, in 1895, resulting in 44 dhows being sunk in the harbor. Much of its population relocated after this incident.
20th and 21st century
In the mid 20th century, the Political Advisor in Bahrain, Charles Dalrymple Belgrave, reported that just a few Bedouin of the Nua‘imi (Naim) tribe lived, albeit nomadically, in the ruined town, which was disputed between the sheikhs of Bahrain and Qatar. Qal’at Murair remained occupied until the construction of the Zubarah Fort was commenced and finished in 1938 by the 5th ruling emir of Qatar, Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani. The town was gradually abandoned towards the end of the 20th century and was used primarily for beach camps. The fort also housed a coast guard station until the 1980s's.
The planned Qatar–Bahrain Friendship Bridge, slated to be the longest fixed link in the world, will connect the northwest coast of Qatar near Zubarah with Bahrain, specifically, south of Manama. Its location several kilometres south of Zubarah is planned so as to have negligible impact on the heritage site. It is expected to be constructed by 2022.
Zubarah is well known for the fortress of 1938, which was officially named after the town. The Zubarah Fort follows a traditional concept with a square ground plan with sloping walls and corner towers. Three of the towers are round while the fourth, the south east tower, is rectangular; each is topped with curved-pointed crenellations, with the fourth as the most machicolated tower. The fort’s design recalls earlier features common in Arab and Gulf fortification architecture, but varies by being constructed on concrete foundations. It marks the transition from solely stone-built structures to cement-based one, albeit in a traditional design.
Originally, the fort was built as a base for the Qatari military and police to protect Qatar’s north-west coast as part of a series of forts along Qatar’s coastline. It was restored in 1987 with the removal of a number of much later auxiliary buildings erected to house the Qatari forces. After opening, the fort quickly became a major heritage attraction and, for a while, a local museum. Due to the unsuitable conditions in the fort for displaying and storing finds, the objects were relocated to Doha in 2010. As of 2011, the Qatar Museums Authority is conducting an on-going project of monitoring and restoration to ensure the upkeep of the fort. Work is expected to continue into 2013. During this time, parts of the fort may be closed to visitor access.
The Murair Fort, Qal'at Murair in Arabic, 1.65 km east of the town of Zubarah, was built shortly after the town's settlement. The fort served to espouse Zubarah and especially entrenched the town’s primary fresh water source: groundwater reached by shallow wells. Within the fortification walls were a mosque, domestic buildings and at least one large well. Around the fort, several enclosures attest to the presence of fields, plantations or holding pens for animals, suggesting that this was also an agricultural settlement.
Zubarah was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage tentative list in 2008. Since 2009, the site had been the subject of joint research by the QIAH and the Copenhagen, and development as a protected heritage site. For protection, most of the site is situated inside a fenced area and visitors have to pass a guard to enter the heritage town of Zubarah.
Prior to its addition to the World Heritage List, there was no visitor centre in the town. Other visitor facilities were sparse. In a parking lot next to the Zubarah fort, an information stand provided an overview and introduction to the site, fort and town. There were restrooms located near the fort, but there were no refreshments available in the vicinity.
On June 22, 2013, UNESCO added the site to its World Heritage List. The UNESCO report stated that the town was distinguished its degree of preservation and its evidenced sustainment by pearl diving and commerce. Following its inclusion in the list, the partially restored fort was transformed into a visitor centre and a number of rooms were designated for showcasing the subjects of pearling and astronomy.
Guided tours of the town are offered, and field trips to the site are being integrated into various schools' history curriculum. There is also a self-guided tour, where the visitor is guided by signposts. Tourism increased rapidly after the town's renovations were completed in 2014, attracting more than 30,000 visitors in the first three months of the year. This was a 170% increase from the entire 2013 season.
The town currently hosts the Tour of Al Zubarah, a men's one-day cycle race which was rated as 2.2 by the UCI and forms part of the UCI Asia Tour. Zubarah also hosts the ladies' and men's Tour of Qatar and has been described as one of the toughest and longest stages in the course.
Archaeology and conservation
In March 1956, the site of Zubarah was included in the first Danish expeditions of Qatar and a team of archaeologists from Aarhus University and Moesgård Museum provided preliminary reconnaissance of the area. In 1962, Moesgård Museum archaeologist Hans Jørgen Madsen returned to ruins in Zubarah and conducted further survey.
The Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) and its predecessor carried out two excavation projects in Zubarah, with the first during the early 1980s, and the latter in 2002-2003. The excavations in the 1980s were the more comprehensive of the two.
In 2009, the QMA jointly launched the Qatar Islamic Archaeology and Heritage Project (QIAH) with the University of Copenhagen. The QIAH is a ten-year research, conservation and heritage initiative with the objective of investigating archaeological sites, preserving their fragile remains and working towards the presentation of the sites to the public. The project is an initiative by the Qatar Museums Authority’s chairperson H.E. Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and vice-chairperson H.E. Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al Thani.
The QIAH project carried out a complete topographic survey of the site of Zubarah, the adjacent site of Murair, and the Zubarah Fort. Archaeological excavations have been undertaken at Zubarah and Qal`at Murair, supported by landscape studies in the hinterland. Numerous sites belonging to different chronological periods have been identified and recorded, and exploratory excavations have been conducted at a number of important localities, especially Freiha and Fuwayrit.
A team from the University of Hamburg recorded the architectural remains of Zubarah in great detail with a 3D scanner. To preserve the architectural remains, a restoration program has been launched using special, saline resistant mortar and plasters to maximise the visitor experience, while abiding by UNESCO heritage guidelines. The aim of the conservation work is to preserve the authenticity of the site, as well as to preserve areas that can be enjoyed by visitors to the site through, among other means, interactive displays on mobile devices.
There have been separate claims made by Qatar and Bahrain over the territory of Zubarah since the time of Ottoman occupation. One of the earliest conflicts was in 1873, when the Bahraini emir felt his interests in Zubarah were at risk and so claimed sovereignty over the town. In 1937, Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain alerted the local political resident to the dispute. He, in turn, referred the issue to the political resident in Bushehr. The political resident in Bushehr wrote back, stating:
- "Personally I am of opinion that Zubara definitely belongs to Qatar but I am writing to His Majesty's Government, pending their decision you should avoid giving any opinion at all to Bahrain Government on the matter including the fact that I am referring the question."
Hamad ibn Isa again wrote to the political resident in Bahrain in 1939 to inform him that Abdullah Al Thani was constructing a fort in Zubarah. He contended that the construction was illegal because he held sovereignty over the land. A settlement was reached in 1944 during a meeting mediated by the Saudis, in which Qatar recognized Bahrain's customary rights, such as grazing, and visiting with no formalities necessary. However, Abdullah broke the accord when he constructed a fort in the town. The strenuous relationship between the two countries improved in 1950 after Ali Al Thani ascended to the throne.
In 1953, Bahrain again rescinded its claims over Zubarah when it sent a party of students and teachers to Zubarah who proceeded to write 'Bahrain' on the walls of Zubarah Fort. Furthermore, the Bahrain Education Department published maps which alleged Bahraini sovereignty over the entire northwest coast of the peninsula. Ali responded by occupying the fort in 1954 and later added police in 1956.
Following the independence of Qatar in 1971 from the British Empire, Bahrain continued to dispute Qatari sovereignty over Zubarah until the case was settled in Qatar's favour with a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 2001.
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|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Zubarah.|
Zubarah travel guide from Wikivoyage
- Photos of Zubarah Fort
- Excavations at Zubara
- University of Copenhagen, Qatar Islamic Archaeology and Heritage Project
- UNESCO's tentative list
- Al-Zubarah Pearl of the Past. A documentary from 2011
- 360 degrees panoramic virtual tour of the Al Zubarah fort
- Culture and Heritage under Qatar Museums Authority: Al Zubarah fort
- James, Bonnie (March 24, 2012), "Zubarah’s heritage list hopes get a lift", Gulf Times, retrieved March 30, 2012
- "Students gain insight into Al Zubarah’s historic role", Gulf Times, February 25, 2012, retrieved March 30, 2012
- James, Bonnie (January 21, 2012), "New tools to unearth Zubarah secrets", Gulf Times, retrieved March 30, 2012
- "Hi-tech survey at Al Zubarah site", Gulf Times, January 21, 2012, retrieved March 30, 2012
- "Excavation at historic site uncovers date presses used to produce syrup", Gulf Times, February 25, 2011, retrieved March 30, 2012
- James, Bonnie (February 11, 2011), "Remains of palatial compound", Gulf Times, retrieved March 30, 2012
- Mogensen, Anna (March 12, 2010), "Danish-led Excavation in Qatar", FOCUS Denmark (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark), retrieved March 30, 2012
- Walmsley, Alan (December 8, 2011). "The legacy of Zubarah". QULTURA MAGAZINE (Vega Media and Katara) 1: 58–65. Retrieved March 30, 2012.