Qatar: Past and present
Written by Karen Martin
Qatar celebrates its National Day on December 18, commemorating the birth of the modern state.
Amidst the events and festivities, Qatar National Day is a time for all Qatari citizens, expatriates, and visitors to reflect on Qatar’s rich past, celebrate its successes, and recognise how far it has come.
On December 18, 1878 Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al-Thani succeeded his father Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani as the ruler of Qatar, and led the country towards independence. The national holiday, established in 2007 by Emiri Decree, is also known as Founder’s Day and is celebrated on the same date every year.
This national occasion is a celebration of national identity, heritage, and history, and pays homage to the men and women who participated in the country’s growth as a modern nation. It’s a day for Qatar to renew bonds to its heritage while adapting to modern times; to strive for progress without forsaking its Arab and Islamic identity.
While the State of Qatar is relatively young, its land and people go back many centuries. The inhabitants of the peninsula were known as traders on both sea and land. Today, the country’s history and rich traditions are still the beating heart of Qatar.
The seven-kilometre-long Corniche in Doha is the focus for the celebrations each year. After a recitation from the Holy Qur’an, the National Day Parade commences, led by a group of Qatari children wearing national costume, accompanied by horsemen and camel riders in traditional dress, followed by infantry forces, police, the Internal Security Force, and Emiri Guards. Spectators are also treated to military fly-pasts, while traditional dhows can be seen across the harbour. In the evening, the sky above the Corniche is lit up with dazzling firework displays.
Qatar National Day is also celebrated throughout Doha and the rest of the country, with everything from camel races and art exhibitions, to traditional dance and music performances. Citizens and residents around the country express their national pride by flying maroon-and-white flags from buildings and cars.
In Doha, events are staged at many venues including Katara Cultural Village, Souq Waqif, theatres and concert halls, and the Darb Al Saai pavilion, which showcases Qatar’s history with horse events, desert campsites, and exhibits about Qatar’s natural world, sailing, and pearl diving.
Souq Waqif is an iconic landmark in Doha and embodies the rich heritage of the city. It is the ideal place to visit if you want to experience Qatar’s true culture, and the warm hospitality that the country is known for.
You’ll find an array of speciality markets selling a medley of products including hand-woven carpets, traditional clothing, and spices. Historically, Souq Waqif has always been a centre for the sale of pearls and gold in Qatar and the specialist Gold Souq is an excellent source of jewellery, and precious metals and stones.
Around the souq you can find many examples of Qatari traditions. There is a Falcon Souq – falconry being one of the country’s major sporting activities – and nearby are stables housing Arabian horses. The breed played an important role in the founding of Qatar when Bedouin tribesmen and their courageous Arabian steeds won the battle that would lead to Qatar’s independence.
To experience Qatar’s handicrafts, the Souq Waqif Art Center holds workshops where local artisans display their professional skills to teach the craft and keep the traditions alive, including calligraphy, and traditional pottery techniques.
However, Qatar National Day is not only a celebration of Qatar’s history, but also of its spectacular growth and achievements as a modern nation.
While early Doha featured a low skyline punctuated only by the domes and minarets of mosques, the discovery and development of the nation’s oil and gas resources resulted in a rapid population boom, transforming Doha’s landscape and skyline. New suburbs and business districts emerged quickly, in an array of architectural styles. The transformation from a small trading and fishing hub to a modern metropolis over a few decades resulted in vast changes to the way of life of its residents and their sense of community.
Today, Qatar features an array of world-class hotels, restaurants, and shopping malls. New openings in 2016 included Westin Doha Hotel & Spa, and Elements restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel Doha, whilst a range of upscale shopping malls are set to open between now and the end of 2017.
Qatar has blossomed into a country with a vision for its future, and a solid reputation as a modern and vibrant state. It is a rich and cosmopolitan country that nurtures creativity, with its own museums and a vibrant knowledge-based economy.
Qatar National Day is also a celebration of unity and Qatar’s place in the world. This year has seen a cultural exchange between China and Qatar, including the current exhibition, Treasures of China, at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA).
The MIA displays the finest art and artefacts from across the Islamic world from the last 14 centuries, alongside a constantly changing programme of temporary exhibitions.
Situated in Education City, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art showcases modern art exhibits and programmes offering an Arab perspective on contemporary art. Other venues contributing to Doha’s lively cultural scene are Doha Fire Station, Al Riwaq Gallery, and Qatar Museums Gallery, amongst many others.
Katara Cultural Village also hosts theatres, galleries, and performance venues with a lively year-round programme of concerts, shows, and exhibitions.
A great respect for tradition, a modern outlook, and a vibrant cultural scene are strongly rooted in Qatari culture and these are characteristics that will take the country forward, as its citizens proudly celebrate Qatar’s rich history as well as its vision for the future.
December 18, 1878
Qatar National Day celebrates the historic day Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al-Thani succeeded his father as the ruler of Qatar, marking the beginning of his ambitious quest towards securing recognition of the country’s independence. Sheikh Jassim opposed Ottoman attempts to increase their already solid influence in Qatar, and a military confrontation ensued. Sheikh Jassim and his troops, composed of Qatari families, fought bravely, inflicted defeat on the Ottoman troops, and achieved victory. This was a landmark in the modern history of Qatar because of the courage with which Sheikh Jassim and his people faced up to the Ottomans despite the latter empire’s military superiority.
One of the most beautiful natural beaches in Qatar, Katara’s private beach spans over 1.5km. Families can choose between enjoying a relaxed beach experience and a variety of beach activities.? A play area is located by the beach where children can enjoy a variety of activities, games, and rides as well as child-friendly water sports. Children under six gain free admission to the beach, and the adjoining cultural village has a wide range of restaurants and cafés at which to grab a bite to eat.
Daytime, evening, and overnight camping trips to the desert can all be arranged in Qatar. Several tour operators have Bedouin-style camps in the desert, equipped with various home comforts. Try a private desert safari in a four-wheel-drive vehicle driven by an experienced Qatari guide. You may be able to have a go at camel riding, sand-boarding, or driving a dune buggy. If you choose an overnight safari you will be able to experience a moonlit barbecue and a night under the stars.
Kids will love experiencing Qatar’s seafaring heritage aboard a traditional wooden Arabian dhow. Take in Doha’s spectacular skyline and sail away with the family on a private cruise. With Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels, the experience can be personalised for your family with butler service and an on-board chef who can prepare a choice of Arabic and international dishes.
Timeless boutique: Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels
Encircling the historic heart of Doha, Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels is a collection of nine luxurious five-star hotels steeped in timeless Qatari hospitality. All rooms and suites feature Arabian décor, whether traditional or contemporary, and during a stay at any of the hotels, guests have access to the collection’s full range of facilities, including spa facilities, and several restaurants. Al Matbakh is a rooftop grill restaurant, featuring an open kitchen and spectacular views; while La Piazza offers Italian fare under a stained-glass atrium.
Classic: Sharq Village & Spa
The waterfront resort of Sharq Village & Spa resembles an ancient Qatari village, designed around pools, fountains, lush gardens, and intimate courtyards. The 174-room village blends traditional architecture with plush facilities, and private terraces overlook the hotel’s private beach or gardens. Nine restaurants and lounges offer traditional flavours from the Middle East and beyond, and provide breathtaking views. The hotel’s Six Senses Spa is one of the biggest and best in Doha, featuring treatments inspired by Far Eastern and Arabian spa techniques.
Luxury: The St. Regis Doha
Overlooking the Arabian Gulf, The St. Regis Doha offers 336 sea-view rooms and suites styled with modern opulence. The five-star hotel features a wide array of signature restaurants and lounges including Chinese fine dining at Hakkasan, Lebanese cuisine at Al-Sultan Brahim, and fresh flavours at Gordon Ramsay Mediterranean. Continuing a century-old St. Regis tradition, every guest is provided with their own butler for the duration of their stay.