Located along the coast of the Persian Gulf, Doha is the capital of Qatar. Despite its small size, the city has always caught the eye of the world, first thanks to its location along important trade routes and later due to its oil reserves. In the last few decades, utilisation of its natural gas reserves has boosted the city’s economic status.
Doha experiences a hot desert climate which means almost half the year is too hot to enjoy all that the city has to offer. Between October and March the sun eases off and the temperatures drop from scorching to pleasantly warm making it the best time for a visit.
Until recently, Doha had been living in the shadow of its glitzier neighbours in the region. But grand-scale construction, modern infrastructure and a vibrant art and cultural scene have contributed to the city’s rise in stature. Doha’s re-invention is pushing it towards claiming the title of the new cultural capital of the Middle East.
In the context of Doha’s modern cityscape dotted with skyscrapers in glass and chrome, the Sharq Village and Spa appears almost surreal. The architecture of the Sharq steers away from linear and instead adopts the layout of a Middle Eastern village.
The main building that houses the reception has been fitted with traditional Arabic interiors to make a grand first impression. Elaborate chandeliers, carved screens, a mosaic floor and plush furnishings give it a royal ambience. The building also contains a small selection of shops laid out to resemble an ancient souk.
A maze of passages unravels from the main building and heads off in different directions leading people to intimate courtyards that house the rooms, the spa and other amenities. The paved paths, traditional structures and desert-style landscaping, all come together to create a Qatari village atmosphere.
But, the resemblance ends at the door to the rooms. Inside, the rooms are an epitome of luxury and comfort. The furniture, furnishings and artifacts in the rooms have been hand-picked to create a synergy in the look. The Sharq recreates a forgotten Qatari setting in the heart of the hustle that signifies modern Doha.
Under The Desert Sun
Two rows of palm trees stand like sentinels leading to what looks like blocks stacked over each other, albeit artistically. It is Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art. Master of modern architecture I.M.Pei was 91 years old and had to be coaxed out of retirement to design this masterpiece.
The beige stone of the structure syncs it with the structures of the desert. Pei topped the structure with a glass dome to use the desert sun to create patterns with light and shadow and continually transform the interiors through the day.
At the same time, its geometric structure impresses upon the visitor that it is quite different from its neighbours. Metalwork, ceramic, jewellery, textiles, woodwork and glass from across Spain, Egypt and Asia are housed here making it one of the most complete Islamic collections in the world.
Spice It Up
Located within the W hotel, the restaurant Spice Market reflects the chic design philosophy of the hotel. Candlelights in golden niches in the wall and bespoke glass lanterns suspended from the ceiling envelop the dining area in a warm glow.
Hand-crafted wooden screens have been strategically placed to partition the large space into cosy pockets. Design details like intricately woven cane baskets on one wall, glass urns filled with spices and condiments on shelves and silk cushions imbue South-East Asian flavours into the exotic setting. The end result is the experience of a Vietnamese street market within all the comforts of luxury.
Wind towers rise atop the clay and stone buildings, horses and camels clip-clop through the maze of alleys, carpets piled with handicrafts and jewellery lie on the pavements and Bedouin weavings hang on display. Time travel? Not quite. The Souq Waqif was renovated in 2004 but it has been closely modelled along the lines of the ancient markets of Egypt and Syria, thus its dated appearance.
Its impressive design concept won local designer, Mohamed Ali Abdullah the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. In a bid to maintain the authenticity, traditional construction style has been used, for instance the roofs have been made by binding together local wood and bamboo. With stalls selling a range of products and cafes and restaurants dishing out a variety of cuisines, the Souq bustles with life all day and late into the night.
Text By Himali Kothari