Al Zubarah Archaeological Site - World Cultural Heritage in Qatar

The walled seaside town of Al Zubarah in the Persian Gulf flourished as a center of commerce and pearl fishing in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, before being destroyed in 1811 and abandoned in the early 1900s. Founded by merchants from Kuwait, Al Zubarah had trade links throughout the Indian Ocean, Arabia and Western Asia. A layer of blown desert sand protected the remains of palaces, mosques, streets, courtyards, and fishermen’s huts; its port and its double defensive enclosures, a canal, walls and a cemetery. Excavations have taken place on only a small part of the site, providing striking evidence of the traditions of pearl fishing and urban trading that sustained the region’s major coastal towns and led to the development of small states. independents that flourished outside the control of the Ottoman, European and Persian empires and eventually led to the emergence of the current Gulf States.

Year of accreditation: 2013
Criteria: (iii)(iv)(v)
Area: 415.66 ha
Buffer zone: 7,196.4 ha

Outstanding Overall Value

The walled seaside town of Al Zubarah in the Persian Gulf flourished as a center of pearl trading and fishing for a short period of around 50 years in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Founded by Utub traders from Kuwait, its prosperity was linked to its involvement in the trade of high-value items, including the export of pearls. At the height of its prosperity, Al Zubarah had trade links with the Indian Ocean, Arabia and Western Asia.

Al Zubarah was one of the prosperous and fortified trading towns around the coast of present-day Qatar and other parts of the Persian Gulf, having flourished since the early Islamic period, around the 9th century AD ., and established a symbiotic relationship. with inland establishments. These trading cities probably competed individually over the centuries in which the Indian Ocean trade took place.

Al Zubarah was nearly destroyed in 1811 and finally abandoned in the early 20th century, after which its surviving stone and mortar buildings crumbled and were gradually covered in a protective layer of sand washed away by the desert. A small part of the city has been searched. The property includes the rest of the city, with its palaces, mosques, streets, courthouses and fisherman’s huts, harbor and double defensive walls, and on the mainland of the city it is a canal, two retaining walls and a cemetery. Not far away are the ruins of the fortress of Qal’at Murair, with evidence of the management and protection of the desert water supply, and another fortress built in 1938.

What distinguishes Al Zubarah from other trading towns in the Persian Gulf is that it lasted a relatively short time, second, it was deserted, third, it has hardly been touched since it was covered in sand of the desert, and fourth, it is wider. The background can still be read through the remnants of small satellite settlements and the remains of neighboring competing towns along the coast.

The layout of Al Zubarah has been preserved under the desert sands. The entire city, still in the desert hinterland, is a living reflection of the development of an 18th and 19th century trading society in the Gulf and its interaction with the surrounding desert landscape.

Al Zubarah is not exceptional because it is unique or different in some way from these other settlements, but rather because it can be seen as an exceptional testimony to the tradition of urban trade. early Islamic period or before the 20th century, and to illustrate the urban background, the sequence rewrote the political and demographic map of the Persian Gulf during the 18th and early 19th centuries and led to the development of small Independent states that flourished outside the control of the Ottoman, European and Persian empires and eventually led to the emergence of today’s Gulf States.

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Criterion (iii): The abandoned settlement of Al Zubarah, the only remaining comprehensive urban plan of an Arab pearl town, is an exceptional testimony to the tradition of trading and trading in Persian Gulf pearls in the 18th and 19th centuries; almost definitive flourishing of a tradition that sustained the main coastal cities of the region from the beginning of the Islamic period or before until the 20th century.

Criterion (iv) region as a commercial channel. Thus, Al Zubarah can be seen as an example of small independent states that were established and flourished in the 18th and early 19th centuries outside the control of the Ottoman, European and Persian empires. This period can now be considered a pivotal moment in human history, when the Gulf States that exist today were established.

Criterion (v): Al Zubarah is unique evidence of human interaction with the sea and the harsh desert environments of the region. The weight of pearl fishermen, imported ceramics, descriptions of sailboats, traps, wells and agricultural activities suggest that the development of the city was driven by trade and commerce, but also by habitation. desert hinterland.

Al Zubarah’s townscape and relatively untouched seascapes as well as the desert hinterland are essentially unremarkable or unique among Persian Gulf settlements, nor are the unusual land management techniques. What makes them special is that the evidence they present is the result of complete abandonment over the past three generations. This allows them to be interpreted as fossil reflections of how coastal trading cities extracted resources from the sea and their desert hinterland at one time.


Al Zubarah became ruins after its destruction in 1811. Only a small part of the original site was resettled at the end of the 19th century. Thus, the urban layout of Al Zubarah from the 18th century is close as it is preserved.

The property contains the entire city and its immediate hinterland. Limits include all attributes representing positions and functions. The buffer zone includes part of its desert landscape and context.

Physical monuments are very susceptible to erosion, both intact monuments and those that have been excavated. However, extensive research and testing has been conducted over the past few seasons and continues to address the optimal methods of protection and stability. The whole property is in a strong hedge. The integrity of the larger installation is fully protected.


Only a small part of the commune has been excavated in three phases: in the early 1980s, between 2002 and 2003 and from 2009. Restoration work carried out during the 1980s included the reconstruction of several walls and, in some case, cement. had a destructive effect. The lack of maintenance over the 25 years leading up to 2009 has also resulted in significant degradation of the exposed walls. As a result, the authenticity of the remains revealed by the initial excavations has been to some extent compromised. But as this concerns only a very small percentage of remains, the overall impact is limited.

Since 2009, new dug holes have been filled. Starting in 2011, a project began stabilizing the walls using methods devised after extensive testing and research, and using the latest information and technology available. These methods will allow the consolidation of parts of the excavation site for visitors to see.

Protection and management requirements

Al Zubarah is designated an archaeological site under the Antiquities Law No. 1. 2, 1980, and its amendment, Law No. 23, 2010. It is therefore a property protected by law.

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The buffer zone has been legally approved by the Qatari Ministry of Urban Affairs and Planning. This ensures that no permits will be issued for any economic or real estate development within the buffer zone.

Al Reem Biosphere Reserve and Qatar Northern National Heritage Park, including Al Zubarah Archaeological Site, are legally protected areas. These help to effectively extend the protection to a wider context, the Madinat Ash Shamal Structural Plan as approved in 2013 will ensure the protection of the site from any urban encroachment from the north eastern city.

The Qatar National Master Plan (QNMP) states that the protection of cultural heritage sites, of which the Al Zubarah archaeological site is the largest in the country, is of vital importance throughout Qatar (Policy BE 16). A ‘conservation zone’ has been established to provide this protection, and the policy measures state that this includes the northern coast of Qatar (Coastal Protected Area) and the area between Al Zubarah and Al Shamal (Al Shamal Conservation Area) . The plan also indicates that such growth will be limited by protected areas and that the planned road network will avoid the buffer zone.

The site management unit will be operated until 2015 by the Qatar Islamic Archaeological and Heritage Project (QIAH) and the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA). The site manager appointed by the IQAH works in collaboration with the deputy site manager appointed by the AQM. A National Property Committee made up of representatives from various stakeholder groups, including the local community, various government departments and universities in Qatar and Copenhagen, chaired by the QMA Vice President. Its purpose is to facilitate dialogue and advice to the QMA regarding the protection and monitoring of assets.

An approved management plan will be implemented in three phases over nine years. The first phase (2011-2015) focuses on archaeological investigation, conservation and the preparation of a tourism development master plan, including the planning and design of a visitor center which will open in 2015 and strengthen high capacity; the second phase (2015-2019) is a medium-term strategy for presentation and capacity building, but will include further archaeological investigations and the development of a coverage strategy, while in the second third phase (from of 2019), the QMA will assume full responsibility for the management of the property, which until then had to be preserved and enhanced.

The Qatar Islamic Archaeological and Heritage Project (QIAH) was launched jointly by QMA and the University of Copenhagen in 2009. This 10-year project aims to study the property and its hinterland as well as to preserve its fragile ruins.

A conservation strategy has been developed, adapted to the characteristics of earthen architecture and designed to meet the needs of the Al Zubarah ruins. It aims to protect and strengthen urban monuments so that they are preserved for future generations; have a certain number of visitors each year; and allow them to understand by explaining the history of the city. It is recognized that due to the environmental conditions and composition of historic buildings, conservation work cannot completely prevent deterioration and a regular program of maintenance and monitoring is planned.

A group of experts called the Heritage Conservation Strategy Group meets regularly to monitor conservation activities and optimize the implementation of the conservation strategy. A conservation techniques training program has been initiated which creates a specially trained skilled workforce to carry out all restoration activities at the site.

The challenges of conserving extremely fragile remains in extreme climates are enormous. The methods put in place for surveying, analysis and conservation, as well as visitor management, are intended to be exemplary.

Map of the Al Zubarah archaeological site.

Video on the archaeological site of Al Zubarah.