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The core of the proposed World Heritage Site "archaeological site of Al-Zubarah town and its cultural landscape" could link three adjacent properties:
i) the archaeological site of Al-Zubarah town;
ii) the old ruined fort of Qal'at Al-Murair; and
iii) the fort of Qal'at Al-Zubarah.
The buffer zone of this site could be identified considering other properties surrounding the core zone, including:
(i) the well-preserved traditional wells representing sustainable ways of managing underground water;
(ii) the ruined forts - ancient coastal defensive systems;
(iii) other relevant tangible evidence of human activities nearby the site;
(iv) other relevant natural features, such as the ecologically valuable sea-grass beds in the shallow inshore waters close to the proposed site.
The archaeological site of Al-Zubarah town (Plates 2 and 3) is the largest area of early human presence in Qatar. It is located in the northwest of the peninsula, between the Zubarah fort and the sea and consists of an old fortified coastal town. Now completely abandoned, it has cast light on the history of the country and its people, showing evidence of a long-standing community where rich oyster banks and trading connections in and beyond the Gulf ensured prosperity. Archaeological investigation by the Qatari Authorities unveiled evidence of trade with China, West Africa, Persia, and Mesopotamia (Iraq), amongst other countries.
The forma urbis of the town shows a remarkable capability in urban planning: it was based on a grid-based scheme known as "gridiron plan", a type of city theorized by the Greek Hippodamus of Miletus, in which streets run at right angles to each other. The original town, more than 2000 metres long and 600 metres wide, was surrounded by a long enclosure wall and guard towers (thin line in Plate 2). A separate quarter and a wider, more external wall, was added in a second phase of urban development (thick line in Plate 2) and eventually, during a third phase, houses were built outside the walls themselves.
The age of foundation of this settlement is not yet clear. There is little written material detailing the history of the town. Moreover, less than 5% of the site has been excavated to date. It is probable that fresh excavations, were they to be permitted, would uncover valuable materials to shed further light on interpretation of the town's own history. In previous decades, the Qatari Authorities carried out research which showed the town to have already been in existence at the time of Islam in the VII Century AD. In addition, there is an interesting hint in the book Geographia written in the 1st century AD by the great Greek geographer Ptolemy. He recorded in the area the existence of a town called "Qadra" or "Cadara". However, although apparently extremely likely, there is as yet no conclusive evidence that this town could be identified with that of Al-Zubarah.
An account written by Hamad bin Nayem bin Sultan Al-Muraikhi Al-Zubari Al-Qatari in April 1638 AD, describes Al-Zubarah as a harbour of 150 houses and 700 inhabitants, owning several boats and livestock, with multicultural inhabitants, such as "Naim, Musallem, Twar, Hawajer, Bedouins, Lisaud, freemen and slaves". Then, by 1765 AD, the Al-Khalifa and Al-Jalahima groups, both of the Al-Utubi tribe, moved from their homeland of Kuwait to Bahrain in search of pearls. At that time, the Persians already occupied Bahrain so the Al-Utubi moved to Al-Zubarah town, already in existence. The Sheikh ruling the settlement agreed to let the tribe settle inside the town in exchange for paying ordinary taxes for trading. However, they refused and built their own fort, Qal'at Al-Murair (see Plate 4), about two kilometres south of Al-Zubarah town. Later, the Al-Utubi provided their fort with additional walls and they built a seawater canal used as harbour connecting Qal'at Al-Murair and Al-Zubarah town with the sea. This canal, still partially visible, represents an outstanding example of early engineering ability in the Arabian Peninsula.
By the end of the XVIII century AD, both Al-Zubarah town and Qal'at Al-Murair became flourishing centres of trade and pearling, and were recognized points of reference for the entire Arabian Gulf. This power and prominence made the towns targets of invasions from Bahrain, which was still under Persian control. In response, the Al-Khalifa invaded Bahrain in 1783 AD, claiming sovereignty over the island. Thereafter, little by little, the Al-Khalifa migrated to Bahrain where they established a sheikhdom that still endures today. Unfortunately, this migration caused the gradual decline both of Al-Zubarah town and Qal'at Al-Murair, and, finally, their complete abandonment.
Within the archaeological area of Al-Zubarah town, besides ruins of houses and public buildings, many evidences of "madabes" can be found. These structures were used to produce "debis" (‘dibbs' or ‘tibbs'), which is a date-based syrup and part of a traditional Gulf diet. The rooms have parallel channels 10 cm deep into the floor which are linked together by a perpendicular canal near the entrance that funnels into an underground pot in the corner (Plate 5). During the process of making "debis", palm fronds were laid on the channels, creating a smooth, flat base. The dates were then put in sacks made of palm leaves and laid on top of each other in piles that could reach two metres high. The weight of the upper sacks thus squashed the dates in the lower sacks and their thick juice ran into the channels of the so-called ‘mudbasa' and eventually into the sunken collecting pot.
In the vicinity of Al-Zubarah town lies Qal'at Al-Zubarah (see Plate 6), a well-preserved typical Arab fort. H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Qassim Al-Thani, a member of the current Ruling Family of Qatar, built this in 1938 AD on the ruins of an older castle that had been destroyed. The soldiers used the sturdy fort as a station until the mid 1980s AD, when it was turned into a museum to display some of the finds uncovered in the nearby Al-Zubarah town.
The Qal'at Al-Zubarah is a regular square courtyard with one-metre thick massive walls on each side. Three of the corners have large circular towers topped with Qatari-style battlements. The fourth contains a striking rectangular tower with traditional triangular-based ledges with slits called machicolations that - in the event of an attack - were used to shoot over the heads of the enemies.
Eight rooms on the ground floor, originally used to accommodate soldiers, now house exhibitions of pottery and archaeological findings from the neighbouring Al-Zubarah town, show-casing coins from West Africa, pieces of pottery (see Plates 7 and 8), Chinese porcelain, Thai celadon and jewellery made with semi-precious stones.
The ground floor also features "iwan", which are small porticos overlooking the courtyard through square arcades. In the courtyard, there is a four-pillar canopy covering a 15-metre deep well that served as a water supply for the soldiers. The second floor of the fort consists of a wide promenade with a few rooms ‘tucked' inside the corner towers. The walls of these rooms, and the promenade, feature groups of gunfire holes angled in different directions thereby allowing the soldiers to shoot enemies attacking from all sides. Wooden rung stairs that are still in the towers enabled the men to climb up to the roof and patrol the surrounding area with a clear all-round view.
Al-Zubarah town, Qal'at Al-Murair and Qal'at Al-Zubarah feature the traditional Qatari technique of making buildings. The walls, which are thick to isolate the heat and keep the buildings cool, were built by overlapping raw pieces of coral rock and limestone, joining them with mud mortar and covering them with gypsum-based plaster. This plaster, often decorated with geometric patterns, protected the walls from natural elements such as wind and humidity.
The roof is made of four layers. The first consists of a series of "danchal" wood poles, often protected by bitumen. The second is a layer of "basgijl", which are woven bamboo strips. A close net of mangrove branches makes up the third layer, and the roof is then finished with a layer of compressed mud, protecting the buildings from the blazing sun during the hot season. One of the most interesting features of this technique is the building of architraves using poles of "danchal" wood held together with a rope, to increase the adherence of the mud mortar and plaster.
The property "archaeological site of Al-Zubarah town and its cultural landscape" is an outstanding example of socio-economic transformation of land and demonstrates how the State of Qatar was a major marshalling yard in the Arabian Gulf, with trading connections linking China, West Africa, Iraq, Persia, and the West. Moreover, the old Al-Zubarah town shows how an Arabian civilization dealt with urban settlements. The forma urbis shows a remarkable capability of urban planning, with a grid known as "gridiron plan", a type of plan theorized by the Greek Hippodamus of Miletus, in which streets run at right angles to each other.
The whole site of "archaeological site of Al-Zubarah town and its cultural landscape" represents a remarkable example of harmonious coexistence of different cultures and ethnic groups from the Arabian Peninsula. When the site was inhabited, it was a centre where people from all around the Gulf lived, exchanging culture, traditions and running a self-sustained economy based on trading connections.
The site "archaeological site of Al-Zubarah town and its cultural landscape" features the Qatari traditional building technique, whose examples are endangered by the fast urban development of the country. The walls, which are thick to isolate the heat and keep the buildings cool, were built by overlapping raw pieces of coral rock and limestone, joining them with mud mortar and covering them with gypsum-based plaster. This plaster, often decorated with geometric patterns, protected the walls from natural elements such as wind and humidity. The roof is made of four layers. The first consists of a series of "danchal" wood poles, often protected by bitumen. The second is a layer of "basgijl," which are woven bamboo strips. A close net of mangrove branches makes up the third layer, and the roof is then finished with a layer of compressed mud, protecting the buildings from the blazing sun during the hot seasons.
The whole site of "archaeological site of Al-Zubarah town and its cultural landscape" illustrates a sustainable way of land use and is representative of traditional Gulf cultures. Ruins of "madabes" could be found in the site. They are rooms used to produce "debis", which is a date-based syrup at the base of a traditional Gulf diet. These structures are exceptional in demonstrating unique interaction of humans with the environment. The series of old wells surrounding the site shows a sustainable way of using underground water. Moreover, the forts within the site show a traditional way of patrolling the coast. This comprehensive cultural landscape is endangered and would be vulnerable to damaging impact from the planned highway connecting the State of Qatar to Bahrain. This infrastructure would link the southern side of the site and could catalyse speculative but damaging urban development in the area.
The proposed site "archaeological site of Al-Zubarah town and itscultural landscape" respects the attribute of authenticity, as stated by the section II D, articles 79-86 of the Operational Guidelines of the Convention concerning the protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The few preservation works carried out by the Qatari Authorities respected the principles and the ethic expressed by the Charter of Venice adopted in 1964, and the Nara Document on Authenticity adopted in 1994. These works respected traditional techniques and materials. In addition, the site preserves exceptional authentic archaeological material that remains to be uncovered, less than 5% of the whole area having been excavated to date.
With reference to the attribute of integrity, as stated by the section II d, articles 87-85 of the Operational Guidelines of the Convention concerning the protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, most of the structures are still covered by a protective layer of sand. It is well known that the worst decay affects the ruins when they are exposed to the elements without adequate maintenance, but since most of the structures in the site are covered their integrity would still be largely preserved. However, there is no proper surveillance and unfortunately the site is threatened by illegal excavations (treasure-hunting). Local Authorities are planning new excavations but the comprehensive preservation of the site should be the immediate priority.
The proposed site "archaeological site of Al-Zubarah town and its cultural landscape" could be compared with the World Heritage Site of Qal'at Al-Bahrain (Bahrain), an ancient harbour that was the capital of the ancient Dilmun civilization. These two settlements were linked by close trading connections.
According to UNESCO, Qal'at al-Bahrain is a typical tell - an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation. The strata of the 300x600-metre tell testify to continuous human presence from about 2300 B.C. to the 16th century AD. About 25% of the site has been excavated, revealing structures of different types: residential, public, commercial, religious and military. These testify to the importance of the site, a trading port, over the centuries. On the top of the 12m high mound there is the impressive Portuguese fort, which gave the whole site its name, qal'a, meaning fort. The site was the capital of the Dilmun, one of most important ancient civilizations of the region. It contains the richest remains inventoried of this civilization, which was hitherto only known from written Sumerian references.