Sightseeing: Archaeological Sites, Forts and Ruins
If you want an insight into Qatar’s history, culture and heritage, visit one of the archaeological sites or old forts. Some of these heritage sites have been partially restored, while others exist as ruins or excavation sites. The location of forts can be found on the Marhaba map of Qatar. For more information, visit the Qatar Museums (QM) website, qm.org.qa or the Visit Qatar website, visitqatar.qa
Abraj Barzan (Barzan Towers) or Umm Slal Mohammed Fort, and Al Sharqi
Two towers built in Umm Slal Mohammed. Burj Barzan (burj meaning tower, abraj towers) was built during the late 19th century in a unique ‘T’ shape, a rectangular construction with three levels and an external staircase. Both towers have been completely restored. 20 km north of Doha and built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the fort was designed to combine civilian and military functions.
Ain Hleetan well
Ain Hleetan well is on the west coast of Al Khor. Cylindrical and built of gravel, clay and plaster, it led to the settlement of the Al Mahanda tribe in the city. Local legend has it that around 150 years ago, a group of hunters discovered the water source accidentally while chasing a hare. Ancient sources describe the salubrious features of its water, reputed to cure illnesses, to the extent that local residents would call it ‘the doctor’. In the past, the well used to be closed to stop water flow for regular cleaning and maintenance. Today, this water source is maintained and monitored by an architectural conservation team.
Al Ghuwair Castle
The ruins of this 19th century rectangular fort lie 85 km northwest of Doha. Although it carries a historical significance in Qatar’s architectural stands, Al Ghuwair Castle is now almost in debris.
Al Huwaila Fort
Prior to the development of Al Zubara (also written as Al Zubarah) and Doha, Al Huwaila was Qatar’s principal town and is 29 km north of Al Khor. The fort was built during the early Islamic period and was occupied by Al Musallam members of the Bani Khalid family in the 18th century.
Al Jassasiya Petroglyphs or Rock Carvings
Al Jassasiya is one of a dozen rock-carving sites in Qatar. Rock carvings, so called ‘petroglyphs’, can be found around the coasts of Qatar as well as on Bahrain’s Al Hawar Island. But the greatest number of carvings can be found at this major petroglyph site, north of Doha, on low limestone hills (jebel).
First discovered in 1957, the site was systematically studied in 1974 when 874 carved single figures and compositions were catalogued. These rock carvings consist mainly of cup marks in various arrangements, including rows, rosettes and stars, but also of carvings, such as boats, footprints and enigmatic symbols and signs. It is believed that the cup marks are used for playing ancient board games. One of these board games may have been mancala. The game was known in Qatar as Al Haloosa or Al Huwaila. While it has previously been suggested that the earliest might date back to the Neolithic period, new evidence makes it likely that they are not more than a few hundred years old. To get there you will need a four‑wheel‑drive. Arrange a tour with a local tour operator.
Al Jumail Village
On the northwest coast of Qatar lies the small traditional but ruined village of Al Jumail. It was inhabited by the Al Kubaisi family. It is a favourite weekend destination for local families, since it represents their heritage, history, the roots and origin of their ancestors. The village comprises a set of important traditional buildings, including a small mosque with its minaret still intact. This village dates back to the second half of the 19th century and was inhabited until the beginning of the 20th century.
Al Khor Tower and Museum
The tower can be seen overlooking the corniche at Al Khor. It was built in 1900. Nearby is the museum – learn about the myth of Ghilan and Mae, the region’s first female pirate, and see the displays of marine life.
Al Koot Fort
Al Koot means both fort and jail. The building is on Jassim bin Mohammed Street. It was built in 1880 as a police station, became a jail in 1906, and is now a museum. It was renovated in the 1970s and now reflects its original shape.
Al Khulaifi Heritage House
Al Khulaifi Heritage House is located within Muglina Unit Park. It has been recently restored by Qatar Museums and enlisted as an ISESCO Islamic World Heritage List in June 2021.
Al Rakayat Fort
A one-hour drive northwest of Doha, you’ll discover the newly restored Al Rakayat Fort. Qatar Museums’ Department of Architectural Conservation completed the restoration project of the historic fort in February 2022. Historical sources place the origins of the fort between the 17th and 19th century. Following its initial restoration in 1988, the archaeological site suffered environmental damage that took a toll on the structural components of the historic building. Restoration works focused on the main structural components of the building, including plaster, flooring, installation of a wooden ceiling, doors, and treatment against pests. Its unique, local building style and historic integration into the country’s landscape have made Al Rakayat one of the oldest and most important desert forts in Qatar. Named after the Arabic word for ‘well’, Rakayat Fort contains a 5 km-deep freshwater well, from which villagers painstakingly pulled up water. The fort is unusual for its low height (only 3 m). Each corner of the central courtyard features a staircase leading up to one of three rectangular and one cylindrical watchtower, with expansive views of the rocky landscape juxtaposed against the sparkling waters of the Arabian Gulf.
Al Thaqab Fort
Al Thaqab Fort lies about 10 km from Al Zubara, on the eastern side of the road. With finds such as fragments of pottery and Indian glass bangles, the fort could possibly date back to the 19th century. However the houses that surround it may indicate an earlier date. Thaqab means the ‘water in the bottom of the valley after rain’. Al Thaqab is one of the forts that was renovated in the 1980s but unfortunately, not authentically and carefully enough. In proximity to the fort, towards the west, there is a deep well that has been in use since 1911. The water is pumped out rather than hauled up in buckets, the latter representing an old and traditional custom still in practice today. Al Thaqab is a desert fort built of rough limestone blocks or flat slabs of beach-rocks (faroush), with three round corner towers and one rectangular tower. The inside of the fort, typically, was used by villagers to store food and water in case they were besieged.
Al Wajbah Fort
One of Qatar’s oldest forts; it was the site of a famous battle in 1893 when Sheikh Qassim bin Mohammed Al Thani defeated the Ottomans.
Al Zubara and Al Zubara Archaeological Site
A historic coastal town that is now abandoned, Al Zubara is situated approximately 100 km northwest of Doha. Founded in the mid-18th century, the town developed into a centre for pearling and international trade, and rose to become the country’s largest and most important settlement. The success of Al Zubara attracted the attention of other Gulf powers, and after several attacks the town was eventually burned to the ground in 1811. It never fully recovered and was abandoned by the mid-20th century. Al Zubara is home to the new stunning public installation ‘Shadows Travelling on the Sea of the Day’ by Icelandic–Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, which comprises 20 mirrored circular shelters, three single rings, and two double rings, with the 10 shelters at the centre forming a pentagram. It is an invitation to resync with the planet and a celebration of everything moving through the desert – animals, plants, human beings, wind, sunlight, air and shimmering heat.
Al Zubara Archaeological Site is Qatar’s largest heritage site. It has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered to be one of the best-preserved examples of an 18–19th century merchant town in the Gulf region. Al Zubara Archaeological Site covers an area of 60 hectares with remains of houses, mosques, large fortified buildings and a market. Opening times: Daily 9 am – 5 pm. Admission: Free.
Jazirat bin Ghannam (Purple Island)
Excavations at this site 40 km north of Doha in the Al Khor area have brought to light several hearths and rectangular structures. Layers of shells have also been found – the shellfish (thais savigny) lives under rocks and produces a bright dye when in contact with an enzyme and light. The site may have been used during the Bronze Age to produce dye. If true, it is the only documented dye production site in the Arabian Gulf, and the only one outside of the Mediterranean, where it was usually produced.
The island is also known for the mangrove trees, tolerant tropical trees that survive in salty, inter‑tidal, shallow lagoons where other plants rarely grow. There are almost 50 species of mangroves, but in Qatar there is only one, known as Grey Mangrove. Jazirat bin Ghannam is perfect for birdwatching, as a large number of migratory birds stay in the area during the winter. This is an open site with off‑road access, approximately 5 km from the main road. Find it on the map of Al Khor.
Murwab archaeological site
Murwab is the only sizeable Islamic settlement in Qatar not located on the coast. Dating back to the 9–11th century, Murwab used to be a settlement of some 250 houses, constructed in groups, a residence and two mosques. Excavations have revealed also a group of tombs scattered around the groups of houses. The Murwab palatial residence is known to be the oldest discovered Islamic palace in Qatar. The excavated foundation walls overlaying each other show clearly that the structure was rebuilt in the same place by reducing its size. This is a closed site.
Ras Abrouq (Bir Zekreet)
Ras Abrouq, which is also known as Bir Zekreet, is a peninsula on the west coast of Qatar near Dukhan. It bears the remains of prehistoric human occupation. This part of the country has never had permanent settlements, but semi-nomadic tribes did once inhabit the area. A large number of archaeological sites from prehistoric periods have been discovered here – including examples of the flint tools they used for hunting. The pristine environment of the peninsula allows scholars to intensify their research on this defining period of Qatar’s archaeological history. The area stands out due to its unusual landscape of white cliffs. The form and colour of the landscape are a result of the erosion of soft limestone layers, while the wind-shaped white cliffs and bizarre geological forms, like mushroom-shaped hills, make the area unique and special to Qatar.
Believed to have been built between 1809 and 1812, Zekreet Fort is the only fort located in the western region of Qatar. The nearby Zekreet Mosque dates to the early 20th century. Originally intended for defence purposes, Zekreet Fort was built by tribal leader Rahma bin Jaber Al Jalahmah, entirely of faroush stones, or beach rocks. The fort followed a rectangular plan and towers were added in a later stage to its four corners to further strengthen its structure. Small structures, among which are three madabis (date-pressing rooms), were discovered by archaeologists between the fort and sea. In the nearby Brouq Nature Reserve is Richard Serra’s public art installation ‘East-West/West-East’. Opening times: Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday 9 am – 5 pm, Friday 12:30 pm – 5 pm. Closed Monday and Wednesday. Admission: Free.