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Islamic architecture rivals modern structures in Qatar

Al-Qabib Mosque is seen in central Doha. [Nasser ElGhanem/Al-Shorfa]

Al-Qabib Mosque is seen in central Doha. [Nasser ElGhanem/Al-Shorfa]

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Modern buildings are constructed daily in Doha, but urban planners designing the city that overlooks the Arabian Gulf have not lost sight of the importance of preserving Qatar's rich architectural past, experts say.

Beginning in 1995, Qatar began to revive the spirit of historical buildings, according to archaeology expert Mohammad al-Khulaifi, 1993 winner of a prestigious award from the Organisation of Islamic Capitals and Cities.

"A trend emerged in the mid-1990s [that aimed to] infuse the spirit of old buildings into the new architecture spreading in Doha," he told Al-Shorfa. This spawned "construction projects characterised by the spirit of the past, such as the Lusail city, Musheireb development and Souq Waqif projects".

Al-Khulaifi said renewed interest in old architecture is part of preserving Qatar's heritage, since "it is a part of our [national] memory that ought to be preserved, as it is our legacy to future generations".

The Grand Mosque in Doha, the largest in Qatar, is a testament to new architecture built with historical features, since it was built last year in the same style of mosques Qatar has known for centuries.

Drawing on history

Despite the fact that mosques are built around the world in modern architectural styles, Qataris want to draw on their architectural history when building their mosques, according to Islamic architecture expert Mahmoud Ramadan.

"Qatar's old mosques have cylindrical minarets built on square bases with openings at the top in the form of triangle-shaped windows for lighting and ventilation," he told Al-Shorfa.

Ramadan said Qatar has a wealth of such ancient architecture and art, the oldest of which -- the now-defunct Murwab mosque -- dates back to the 9th century AD.

The Gulf country also boasts 68 historic mosques that date back to the 19th and 20th centuries, he added.

"Architects today draw upon these mosques for inspiration in the planning, design and construction of any new mosque built in Qatar," Ramadan said.

Al-Qabib mosque in the centre of Doha, restored this year and re-opened during Ramadan, is one of the many heritage mosques that abound in Qatar.

Its construction dates back to 1878 and it went more than 100 years without undergoing any restoration work.

Architect Saeed al-Khani said modern architecture that draws inspiration from older architecture is "a [distinctive] feature of modern Qatar".

"Modern cities that were built in the Arabian Gulf after the discovery of oil for the most part relinquished their links to the spirit of ancient architecture, before coming full circle and re-discovering their history and architectural heritage," he said.

Interest in old and traditional architecture began early in Qatar, as evidenced by a number of new towers built in Doha that feature arches, crests and historically-inspired windows and exterior designs, according to al-Khani.

"All of this coincides with a surge in Qataris' interest in their heritage in all aspects, whether architectural, social, historical or cultural," he said.