Al Zubarah, Qatar

Located on Qatar's north-west coast 100 km west of Doha and comprising the immaculately restored Al Zubarah Fort and the surrounding 60-hectare of archaeological works, this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most extensive and best preserved examples of an 18th-19th century settlement in the region. It covers the remains of a walled coastal town that once ranked as one of the Arab Gulf's most important pearl diving and trading centers with links extending to the Indian Ocean. It flourished for a short period of some 50 years.

This fort-turned-museum which houses a visitor's center now is square shaped with circular towers in three corners, and a rectangular tower in the fourth. Made of thick huge walls, it also served as a coast-guard station until mid-1980s and was used by the military forces.

Al Zubarah was one of a long line of prosperous, fortified trading towns around the coast in what is now Qatar, and in other parts of the Arab Gulf, that developed from the early Islamic period, around the 9th century AD, onwards and established a symbiotic relationship with inland settlements. Individually these trading towns probably competed with each other over the many centuries during which the India Ocean trade was plied.

Al Zubarah was mostly destroyed in 1811 and finally abandoned in the early 20th century, after which its remaining rubble stone and mortar buildings collapsed and were gradually covered by a protective layer of sand blown from the desert. A small part of the town has been excavated. The property consists of the remains of the town, with its palaces, mosques, streets, courtyard houses, and fishermen's huts, its harbor and double defensive walls, and, on its land side, of a canal, two screening walls, and cemeteries. A short distance away are the remains of the fort of Qalaat Murair, with evidence of how the desert's supplies of water were managed and protected, and a further fort constructed in 1938.

The layout of Al Zubarah has been preserved under the desert sands. The entire town, still within its desert hinterland, are a vivid reflection of the development of an 18th- and 19th-century trading society in the Arab Gulf region and its interaction with the surrounding desert landscape.