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Qatar's 'Pompeii of the Gulf' UNESCO Heritage site

University of Copenhagen Al Zubarah excavation reclaims Arab heritage

Conservation work on excavated remains in Al Zubarah, Qatar (Image: University of Copenhagen)
Conservation work on excavated remains in Al Zubarah, Qatar (Image: University of Copenhagen)

Qatar’s historic seaport of Al Zubarah, known as the ‘Pompeii of the Gulf’, has been placed on UNESCO's World Heritage List of culturally-important sites.

The settlement, which is one of the few well-preserved 18th century city in this part of the world, was placed on the list on 22 June.

The site in northwestern Qatar had been hidden under sand for most of the past century. Archaeologists from the University of Copenhagen began excavating site with the Qatar Museums Authority in 2009.

In response to UNESCO’s decision, Near Eastern archaeologist and project manager Ingolf Thuesen, said: "I am very proud that the University of Copenhagen can contribute to inscribing Arabian cultural heritage on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

“To an archaeologist, Al Zubarah is an extraordinarily challenging and interesting excavation because the climate demands we develop new conservation methods to preserve the old city structures."

Founded in the late 18th century, Al Zubarah’s economy was based on trade between Asia, Africa, and Europe, as well as pearl diving. The city of 5,000 citizens was protected by a mile-long city wall lined with towers.

"In 1811, Al Zubarah was attacked and destroyed by troops loyal to the Sultan of Muscat from what is now known as Oman - and it never recovered. Its buildings and installations were buried under the desert sand.

Thuesen added: “Like Pompeii, the Al Zubarah excavations provide us with unique insights into the period's city planning and social and economic conditions.”

One of the challenges of the Al Zubarah excavations is that the building materials used to construct the houses are very fragile. Archaeologists and conservation officers have had to develop a 100-page-long conservation guide as well as a management plan for the coming museum.

The Al Zubarah archaeological park, which will be open to the public and offer tours of the site, is expected to open on 18 December 2013, when Qatar celebrates its national day.


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