The New Old Souq
Where Is Souq Waqif?
Difficult to miss actually it's huge. You can get there by going past the back of the Emir's palace, and going straight on at the traffic lights. You can then park in front of Doha Fort. You'll find another entrance opposite the PDF Islamic centre.
Souq Waqif was an old Souq, so the government decided to knock it down and build a new Souq that looked like an old Souq. And, to my surprise at the time, they did a very good job at it.
First it looks the part. Beautiful stone has been used for the buildings, and it as created the narrow pathways and maze-like interior you would expect of a Souq. Men with white beards and grey turbans wait in the pathways with wheelbarrows ready to carry your purchases.
There's now a huge range of shops and it's still growing. What it's famous for (in Qatar, anyway) is its dried herbs and spices, and in some areas the air wafts with the scent of them. Incense that looks like rocks is arranged alongside the herbs, lending themselves to the array of colours that make these shops so attractive.
Colourful Indian dresses hang the walls outside the shops, or you can choose material for a tailor to turn into a dress. The traditional Qatari clothing is also available: white for men, black for women. You'll see Qataris shopping here a couple of middle aged ladies, covered head to toe in black, were briefly alarmed by my camera, before I assured them I was photographing the Souq and not them.
Both antiques and replicas are available here, along with old photos of Qatar and its culture. These included traders haggling over piles of pearls, pearl divers being hauled up by their handlers and Bedouin nomads in their traditional camps or alongside their camels.
At Al Ghanim, which is linked to the dhow workshop, in addition to model dhows you can find beautiful pictures made entirely from wood. Despite their range of colours, these pictures are made entirely from different shades of wood. The shopkeeper was temporarily out of stock last time we visited Prince Charles had taken the last one. (He doesn't need much prompting to show you the photo of him presenting it the Prince!)
Feel tired, and you can relax in one of the traditional coffee shops, lounging on the cushions with a Turkish coffee and a Shisha watching the passer-bys or admiring the old pictures. The first time I drank there I was expecting this to be expensive, but the coffee, served in the traditional manner, only set me back three riyals (less than a dollar) a quarter of the price of Starbucks. As night falls, traditional dancing and music is sometimes held.
For me the highlight of the Souq was one I discovered by accident. I was walking back to my car when I suddenly came across rows of falcons, eyes blinkered with ornate hoods, perched on wood above spotless sands. These were not the small timid birds you can buy for three hundred riyals in the bird market, but big proud fierce creatures used to being treated with respect. The shop owner graciously allowed me to photo and film his birds.
Being British, I prefer something old to something new pretending to be old, and dislike the Qatari method of 'preservation' i.e. knocking things down and rebuilding them from scratch. But, unlike some of the forts in Qatar, Souq Waqif has been revamped with taste and style, and is well worth a visit.
Also see: Waqif Art Center