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Rising Cities of the Middle East

Kuwait City 1
Kuwait Camel Racing
Doha 2
Doha 1
Muscat Oman 2
Muscat Oman
Riyadh Saudi Arabia
Masmak Fort Riyadh
Mecca Saudi Arabia
Mecca Saudi Arabia 3

Rising Cities of the Middle East

story by: Tom Ricketts

Buoyed by immense oil wealth and relatively secure political conditions, cities throughout the Middle East are quite literally rising rapidly. Leading the charge is the UAE and its two major cities, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. But the success of Dubai is being emulated by other cities and countries throughout the region, and with worldwide airlines being one of the most prized status symbols, you could find yourself in one of these cities in the not too distant future…

Kuwait City, Kuwait
Kuwait City, the capital city of Kuwait has a long and tumultuous history. As a British protectorate, the city and its people enjoyed far more liberal conditions than their neighbours in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. This lead to the city developing a theatre industry which is still operating to this day, the only such example in the Middle East. Catching an Arabian style play in one of the city’s theatres is a must. The world probably first learned about Kuwait when Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi army invaded, triggering the Gulf War. A memorial museum called the Kuwait House of National Works is the best place to learn what the Kuwaiti’s endured before their liberation. Not to be outdone by its neighbours, the Kuwait City skyline has its own collection of impressive buildings. The first of which is the Kuwait Towers, a collection of some sort of space age water towers. Then there’s Al Hamra Tower, said to be the ‘tallest sculpted tower in the world’. We’re not really sure what that means, but it’s worth seeing. The city souq is the place to get your souvenirs, and a great place to nibble on all sorts of weird and wonderful foods. Finally for something a little different, how about some camel racing? Taking place early in the morning to avoid the heat, camel races can been seen on Friday and Saturday from November to April. Check the papers or ask you concierge for the schedules.

Doha, Qatar
Situated on a peninsula jutting out into the Persian Gulf, Doha is the capital city and easily the largest city in Qatar. If it rings a bell, it’s most probably because the city has been at the centre of the recent FIFA Corruption Scandal. Whether or not it will keep the right to host the 2022 World Cup is unknown, but in the meantime there’s plenty to be seen. Start with a stroll on the corniche, a seaside promenade that takes you past the spectacular skyscrapers and is the best way to get your bearings. Probably the most popular attraction is the Museum of Islamic Art which has a huge range of art from across three continents. Adjacent to the museum is a large landscaped park with more amazing views back over the skyline. Fancy a spot of shopping? Souq Waqif is your place. A souq is an Arabian style market, and this market will not fail to disappoint with everything from exotic spices, beautifully rich textiles, shisha and even falcons to be bought! There’s also a 135 year old fort here which makes for a good photo op. There’s plenty of restaurants here too, but if you’re after an alcoholic drink you’ll need head to internationally branded hotels whose restaurants are the only places permitted to sell alcohol (the Sheraton has a great Irish pub with live music).

Muscat, Oman
The exception to the skyward bound cities of the Middle East is Muscat, Oman’s lowrise capital city. The harbourside suburbs have a delightful corniche lined with gorgeous white and blue buildings, markets and mosques. Some stunning modern buildings have been added to the skyline recently, but they all fit in with their historic neighbours perfectly. The official residence of the sultan is one, although it cannot be visited. However there’s nothing stopping you from catching a show in the brand new Royal Opera House, or the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque which holds the world’s second largest single piece of carpet (cross that of the To Do List!).

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Riyadh is the capital of the Saudi Arabia and home to a staggering 7.3 million people. The city has been around for ions but little heritage remains today. However efforts are being made the restore and rebuild the small walled fortress in the centre of the city. The main feature is Masmak Fortress, a delightful Arabian style castle which has been restored and can be explored by tourists today. And just because the old buildings haven’t survived, doesn’t mean the artefacts they housed haven’t. Most can be seen in the National Museum which has all sorts of beautiful Persian treasures, and thankfully an English audio tour. Modern buildings are going up all over the city too, the most impressive of which is the 302 metre Kingdom Tower which has huge upside down arch cut into the building, linked by a 56 metre air bridge with breath taking views of the city.

Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Just down the road from Jeddah is Mecca, the holiest city for Islam and believed to be the birthplace of Muhammad. Central to the city is a holy mosque holding the Kaaba, the most sacred site of the religion. The city has undergone intense redevelopment in recent years due to accommodate the massive amounts of visitors doing their Hajj, a compulsory pilgrimage a Muslim must make to the Kaaba at some stage in their life. While the Kaaba and central mosque have of course remained untouched, the same cannot be said for the rest of the city and large tracts of the city have been cleared and rebuilt on. Towering over the Kaaba is a number of highrise hotels including Albraj Al Bait, or the Makkah Royal Clocktower Hotel. This gigantic hotel is the fourth tallest building in the world, has the tallest clock building in the world, and can accommodate a whopping 100,000 guests. While non Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque, you can certainly get a birds eye view from the comfort of your air conditioned hotel room.

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Jeddah is a port city on the Red Sea and with 3.5 million people, the second largest city in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately the Saudi’s aren’t known for the protection of their heritage buildings, but Jeddah does have an ‘Old City’ with wonderful examples of early Saudi architecture, now under protection of UNESCO World Heritage status. But Jeddah is a city looking up. It claims the world’s tallest flagpole at 170 metres, which holds a massive 49x33 metre billowing Saudi flag. Then there’s King Fahd’s Fountain which bursts and amazing 312 metres into the air! And finally, the jewel in Jeddah’s crown is the Kingdom Tower which when completed in 2018 will be the tallest building in the world. Exactly how is a closely guarded secret, but we do know it’ll be over 1,000 metres tall, passing Dubai’s Burj Khalifa by over 170 metres.

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