When it comes to shopping, Qatar is the most happening place in the Middle East.
In the capital Doha, you can wander a labyrinthine souq, take in some of the glitziest shopping malls known to man and explore decidedly hip boutiques from exciting local designers. This is because the country has the richest residents in the world, thanks to myriad oil and gas revenues.
In the last five years, this massive spending power has led the Qatari’s to snap up some of the world’s biggest brands. The country’s sovereign wealth fund ploughed millions into buying luxury department store Harrods in London, and has stakes in everything from professional football club Barcelona FC and Bloomsbury Publishing to Barclays Bank and Sainsbury’s supermarkets. On the streets and in the malls, if wealth is indeed power, then the Qataris have some serious biceps with which to flex their shopping bags. Unless they have paid a store assistant or porter to carry their purchases for them, that is.
Start your day of shopping with an early morning tour of old world Arabia at Souq Waqif, located behind the crescent-moon shaped waterfront Corniche. Renovated in 2004 to resemble the authentic, dusty souqs found in cities such as Aleppo and Damascus in Syria and Cairo, Egypt, rather than the heritage theme parks of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, this working open-air street market is a maze of narrow alleys where merchants barter perfumes, handicrafts, jewellery, Bedouin weavings, bridal chests and silverware – all the trappings of Qatar’s heritage and wealth. In the heart of the souq is the Souq Waqif Art Centre and the miniscule Al Hosh Al Qatari Lil Funoon Gallery (974-441-1305), both great spots to pick up a folk painting of Old Doha, or, in the surrounding lanes, spoil yourself with some of the region’s finest dried fruits and nuts, honey and incense from a variety of ever-changing vendors.
The real star of the souk, though, is the architecture – so much so that the local designer Mohamed Ali Abdullah won the respected Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Wind towers dot the top of buildings, and roofs have been constructed in traditional style, with local woods and bamboo bound together by a layer of clay and straw – it is easy to imagine Bedouin traders and merchants buying and selling their wares under the exposed timber beams.
Story by: Dan Mason