What’s Doing in Doha, Qatar
With a population of approximately 1.5 million, nearly one million of whom live in the capital city of Doha, the nation of Qatar lies on the Persian Gulf’s Western Coast, bordered by Saudi Arabia to the west and south. It is estimated that more than 80% of Qatar’s population are expats who have come from all over the world to work in the oil-and natural gas-rich country.
Long dependent on pearl diving and fishing for economic survival, and a nexus for nomadic Bedouin tribes, things began to change for Doha in 1939, when oil deposits were discovered, although fuel exports wouldn’t commence for another decade. Along with the development of Qatar’s oil and other natural reserves came the need to bring in much of the country’s workforce from abroad, as well as to import the huge volume of commodities that the country is unable to produce for itself.
An average per capita income forecast to reach $109,000 (the world’s highest) in 2012 by Qatar National Bank Capital, and a GDP of $179,000 per capita, according to CIA – The World Factbook, also make Qatar an important market for luxury goods.
Given the diversity and wealth of Doha’s population, it’s not surprising that attractions take many contemporary forms, while also offering insight into the region’s rich history and culture.
Designed by award-winning architect I.M. Pei, the Museum of Islamic Art houses a stunning collection of 13 centuries of Islamic art. Art and artifacts range from such finds as a 16th-century silk carpet to a 17th-century gold falcon from India, inlaid with precious stones, as well as glassware, manuscripts, paintings, jewelry, statues, sculpture and porcelain.
The artwork’s abundant geometric and floral designs and images reflect taboos in traditional Islam against depicting human forms in art, although anthropomorphic pieces are also included. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of exquisite, ancient items, but don’t forget to look up at the stunning, multi-layered skylight and to take in the extraordinary lines of the building from different vantage points.
A warren of passageways wend through Souk Waqif, with vendors selling colorful wares, including spices, rugs, pots of many sizes (the largest of which are often used for cooking camel), clothing, jewelry, and food. Souk Waqif also includes a falcon market, which is not to be missed. So popular is falconry among Qataris (some of the birds go for as much as $125,000) that Souk Waqif is also home to a falcon hospital.
In addition to more traditional souks, modern malls with well-known international chain stores are plentiful. Some shopping centers also opt for surreal attractions: Villaggio Mall is replete with indoor canals, gondolas helmed by costumed gondoliers, and faux blue-sky ceilings, while City Centre mall has amusement parks, a skating rink and a bowling alley. High-end big-ticket items and conspicuous consumption are par for the course in Doha (Bentley Mulsanne, Swarovski crystal-bejeweled chador, or Porsche Design Blackberry, anyone?).
Doha’s many modern hotels include W Hotel & Residences Doha, Ritz-Carlton, and the Four Seasons. The new 137-room Grand Heritage Doha Hotel & Spa overlooks the Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence, which hosts such sporting events as Grand Prix auto races. Hotels scheduled to open in 2012 include the St. Regis Doha, in February, and the Shangri-La Doha, in Q4.
Qatar Airways is the country’s flag carrier, and Doha is also served by numerous international airlines, including Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM, and Turkish Airlines. United Airlines is scheduled to launch flights from Washington Dulles to Doha, via Dubai, in May 2012.
With an opening scheduled for 2012, the New Doha International Airport will be Qatar Airways’ new hub. It will be able to accommodate 50 million passengers annually once completed, which is scheduled for 2015. The new airport will also be able to accommodate the Airbus A380.