The History of Doha
A History of Ad Dawhah (AJl Bidda), capital of Qatar
The first mention of Al Bida in English sources appeared in 1765, on a rather inaccurate map by Carsten Niebhur in 1765, in which Al Bidda is referred to as Guttur. Carsten had not visited Qatar personally, and had relied on the knowledge of local Arabs and English sea captains to fill in this section of his map.
In the nineteenth century Doha was little more than a small village which was known as Al Bida. In 1820 Major Colebrook described it thus:
"Guttur - Or Ul Budee [Al Bidda] once a considerable town, is protected by two square Ghurries near the sea shore; but containing no fresh water they are incapable of defence except against sudden incursions of Bedouins, another Ghurry is situated two miles inland and has fresh water with it. This could contain two hundred men. There are remaining at Uk Budee about 250 men, but the original inhabitants, who may be expected to return from Bahrein, will augment them to 900 or 1,000 men, and if the Doasir tribe, who frequent the place as divers, again settle in it, from 600 to 800 men."
(Source: J. A. Saldanha, The Persian Gulf Precis quoted in The Emergence of Qatar)
However, the small size of the place didn't stop it from being bombarded by the British vessel Vestal in 1821, after the city had been deemed to have broken a general treaty of peace. They were bombed again in 1841 after Al-Suwaidi, the Sudanese chief who then ruled Al Bidda, was accused of habouring an outlaw, and the village was destroyed in 1847 after its leaders - then Bin Tarif Bin Salamah - had been killed in battle against the Al Khalifas of Bahrain near Fuweirat.
Sketch of Doha Fort from 1915
These major disturbances were probably also punctuated by the customary raids of the nomadic Bedouin;]: raids which would not stop for another hundred years.
At some point after this destruction the the Al Thani family moved from Fuwairet to Al Bidda, for when the British Resident visited the village he found that Sahikh Mohammed Al Thani was now chief of Doha. Doha was now a separate village close to Al Bidda, and in between Al Bidda and Doha lay little Doha, only four hundred yards form Al Bidda.
Paradoxically, the roots of its future as the capital of Qatar lay when Doha, along with Al Wakra, were attacked again - by Bahrain in 1867, aided by Abu Dhabi. Doha and Al Wakra attempted to retaliate in a very bloody sea battle.
The British, who wished to avoid disruption to trade and were angry that the Al Khalifas of Bahrein had broken a treaty forbidding maritime warfare in the area, came to Qatar and were met by the headman of Al Bida, a certain Sahikh Mohamad Bin Thani, on behalf of "all the Sheikhs and tribes" in the peninsula. This meeting was, eventually, to lead to Qatar becoming a nation state under the Al Thanis. See Qatar History: the Rise of Qatar's Ruling Family for more information.
For a time Ottomans took up a rather nominal control of the country, with a base in Doha, with the acquiescence of Qassim Al Thani, who wished to consolidate his control of the area. However, disagreement over tribute and interference in internal affairs arose which eventually lead to battle in 1893. The Ottomomans were defeated and retreated to their small fort in the centre of Doha, where they were remained until they finally left during the first world war.
Partly as a result of the departure of the Ottomans, Qatar was made a formal British protectorate in 1916, with Doha as its capital.
At around the turn of the century Doha had a population of around 12,000 and around 350 pearling boats. However, the growth of trade in cultured pearls from Japan began to impact upon the region, and this was exacerbated by the depression of the 1930's.
The exploitation of Qatar's oil reserves after the end of the second world war was to save the city, although it was to be some time before the source of their current and future wealth - natural gas - was exploited.
Buildings at the time were simple dwellings of one or two rooms, built from mud, stone and coral reef. However, the Amir's of Qatar were not long in exploiting the new-found wealth, and slum areas were quickly razed to be replaced by more modern buildings.
Doha in the 1960's
As with other countries in the region, in this rush to modernise much of the country's heritage was lost, and in Doha now there is only a single remaining wind tower. The astonishing development of Doha, and the changing shape of the bay, can be seen to this day in Qatar's National Museum.
Doha was a port of some local significance. However, the shallow water of the bay prevented bigger ships from entering the port until the 1970's, when it completed its deep-water port. Further changes followed with extensive land reclamation, which lead to the crescent shaped bay that we can see today.
Also see The History of Qatar for more information on Qatar's History