Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Al-Zubarah Fort

One weekend we thought of going to Al-Zubarah Fort and Vij asked Umer and Sajid to accompany us. After having breakfast at a south Indian restaurant, we left for Al-Zubarah which is around 105 km from Doha. We went out of Doha along the North road, looking for the signs to Al-Zubarah, which we found after the turn off to Al Khor. Then we took a U-turn and head back a few metres before turning right. Then we followed the road until we got to the fort. 

Al-Zubarah is a ruined and deserted town located in the northwestern coast of Qatar. Al-Zubarah is noted for its old fortress built in 1938 by Sheikh Abdu’llah bin Qasim Al-Thani and restored in 1987 as a museum. It is different from the Murair fort built outside the town of Al-Zubarah. Bani Utbah tribe was settled in Al-Zubarah in the second half of the 18th century. It is this tribe which established the town of Al-Zubarah and its port making it one of the most important port and pearl trading centers in the Persian Gulf in the 18th Century. The tribe also built a fort outside the town and called it Murair.
Al-Zubarah Fort
When we arrived at the place, we expected the caretaker to give us keys so that we can let ourselves into the fort, but there were already some archaeologists who were busy in studying the fort and they saved us from that part of business. We found a cannon in front of the fort, while the Qatari flag fluttered proudly at the top of the fort.
Well under the four-pillared canopy
As we entered the courtyard we saw a deep well under the four-pillared canopy. When we peeped through the metal grid that covers the top of the well, we could see our reflection along with the floating bottles in the water deep below.

We saw eight rooms on the ground floor that are used to display exquisite pottery and archaeological findings from the Al-Zubarah town. These rooms were originally meant to accommodate soldiers in the past.  The rooms had wooden shutters and when we opened them, cool wind gushed in. The ground floor also features ‘iwan’, small porticos overlooking the courtyard through square arcades.
Rectangular tower
Circular tower
At the very first sight, we could make out that Al-Zubarah fort is a typical Arab fort constructed using the traditional Qatari architecture. It is an impressive structure which is square in shape. The walls of the fort were thick and very high. It had three circular towers in three corners and a rectangular tower in the fourth corner. This rectangular tower had machicolations, traditional triangular-based ledges with slits, used to shoot at enemies in case of any attack. The walls not only strengthened the fort but also helped the fort to beat the heat. And it is because of these thick walls, we found the rooms inside the fort so cool! These walls were constructed by joining overlapping raw pieces of coral rocks and limestone with mud mortar and then covering it with gypsum-based plaster. 

The roof is made of four layers. The first consists of a series of ‘danchal’ wood poles, often protected by bitumen. The second is a layer of ‘basgijl’, which are woven bamboo strips. A close net of mangrove branches makes up the third layer, and the roof is then finished with a layer of compressed mud, protecting the buildings from the blazing sun during the hot season. One of the most interesting features of this technique is the building of architraves using poles of ‘danchal’ wood held together with a rope, to increase the adherence of the mud mortar and plaster.
Heading towards internal staircase
Photographs of archaelogical findings on display
Gunfire hole
We also used staircases in the courtyard to reach the second floor and found some rooms tucked inside the corner towers. The walls of these rooms had gunfire holes angled in different directions. Some of them had lizards and some of them had birds' nests. These holes not only allowed light and wind to come in, but also helped soldiers to shoot enemies attacking from all sides. They were not straight, but twisted making it difficult for enemies to fire from the opposite side!
Qatari flag
External staircase and the rickety ladder
Machicolations and gunfire holes
A view of courtyard from the first floor
Maybe the rickety ladder that is still in the towers enabled the soldiers to climb up to the roof and patrol the surrounding area with a clear view.
Umer standing in front of a room
Guys had a good time playing around cannon
Cannon in front of the fort
In front of the fort
It was too windy on that day and it didn’t allow us to spend much time outside the fort. After clicking a few pics near the cannon and the fort, we left for Al-Zubarah town where exacavations by the Department of Antiquities in Qatar have been conducted in the 1980s and 2002-2004.
Old car near the fort

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