By Javier Picazo Feliú
Doha, Oct 4 (EFE).- Doha, the main venue for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, is a modern and futuristic capital where skyscrapers, contemporary buildings and streets, as well as promenades that have been completely remodeled for the event, contrast with the traditions and history encapsulated by Souq Waqif market, its cultural heart.
But, as with everything in Qatar, the souq is also a recent creation.
While the marketplace originally dates back to the end of the 19th century as a hub for livestock trade between Bedouins and merchants, the Souq Waqif (which means “standing market”) that we see today is a result of a renovation completed in 2008.
It sprawls over Doha’s Al Jasrah neighborhood, a traditional fishing area home to cemeteries and, now, a huge underground parking lot and a portion of land reclaimed from the sea.
The souq’s mud walls and bamboo and wood roofing preserve the local architectural style while offering respite from the soaring summer temperatures.
It will be a main tourist attraction for football fans heading to Qatar this year, many of whom will feel as though they have entered a movie set or a theme park.
The souq is a charming environment. Its walls are dappled with light from little hanging lanterns, its quaint squares bustle with life and lining its labyrinthian pathways are thousands of stalls selling everything from football shirts to fabrics, spices, coveted jewels and pearls, gold and animals of all kinds, including falcons.
Adding to the aromas of spice are the various food options on offer, from the best street food stalls in Qatar to high-end restaurants.
“Souq Waqif is about 100 plus years old, and it’s a real market,” says Berthold Trenkel, Qatar Tourism’s chief operating officer. “It is still used by the locals. And of course it’s a great tourist attraction while you’re at the square, I would definitely go to one of the restaurants there. You will find lots of cuisines, whether it’s from Iran or from any of the neighboring countries.”
The Qatari souq is a feast for all five senses. So, let us have a closer look.
1.- SIGHTS: INSIDE THE LABYRINTH
The covered stalls wind through the bazaar like a maze in which it is easy to get lost. To keep your bearings, pay attention to the wares on offer, which are split up into specialized sections — rugs, fabrics, spices, gold, kitchen utensils and thousands of hidden treasures and antiques.
During the hottest time of the day, the souq changes completely, plunging into silence as businesses close up until the return of cooler temperatures in the evening.
However, this is a good time to visit, too. You can wander around the passageways, admiring the architecture and design in a more tranquil setting.
As the sun sets, the bazaar springs into life. Colorful lights shine from the lanterns and the merchants hawk their wares to the shoppers ambling through the cobbled pathways.
Among the gems inside the souq are the traditional ‘majlis,’ sitting rooms adorned with cushions, rugs, low tables and backgammon boards, a staple of traditional Qatari pastimes.
These majlis, which are frequented mainly by men and are listed on Unesco’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, offer a refuge in the market to drink tea and coffee, catch up with the latest news and meet up with friends. They are also used for events such as weddings, parties and funerals.
Towering over the souq is the majestic Fanar Mosque, whose curved architecture spirals up to a minaret reminiscent of a lighthouse. The mosque is one of the main sites in the Qatari capital and can be seen from the Doha Corniche and the museums of Islamic Art and the National Museum Of Qatar.
2.- AROMA: THE MERCHANTS OF SPICE AND PERFUME