Souq Waqif is one of Doha’s most famous and ancient traditional markets, not only in Qatar but in the entire Gulf region. People from all social spheres in the country, residents and tourists are familiar with this exceptional piece of history, where all kinds of goods, local and from different places in the world, are traded.
The first thing you feel once you reach the place is the scent of incenses such as olibanum, Arabian aromas, rare spices, Arabian cardamom-flavoured coffee and traditional medical herbs. All kinds of handcrafts and artefacts are there, from silver and gold jewellery to copper utensils, in addition to traditional swords, daggers and clothes.
This souq (traditional market) has been reorganized in a modern way, without affecting its ancient style. Renovation works have added value to the place while on the same time preserving its historical charm, hence the decision of the Emir of Qatar, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, to renovate Souq Waqif and resurrect the 30’s era in its corridors and galleries.
Souq Waqif is also known as Souq Al-Maqbarah (Cemetery Market), since it used to be adjacent to a graveyard. Nowadays, that area has become a parking lot. By time, the souq has acquired the name of Souq Waqif and almost nobody calls it by the old graveyard name.
Walking inside the souq brings old memories back to your mind, as if you were a few decades back in time visiting a local market. At one side of the souq, you’ll find hotel and restaurant Bismillah, the first and most famous hotel in Doha, which used to host traders visiting Souq Waqif. Nevertheless, the hotel only has 15 rooms and a downstairs restaurant offering local foods and drinks.
At another side, there is a two-storeyed popular café Ashairej, with an open-air terrace at the upper floor, where clients can have shisha (water pipe) and all kinds of local food, such as harees, luqaimat, marqooqa and bajella. The café is also known for popular music shows, which attract foreign tourists interested in oriental music gatherings.
Visitors to the souq can easily distinguish Bedouin women selling embroidered traditional clothes, always laborious and ready to offer explanations to tourists and buyers about the secrets of their craft. There are all kinds of shops that sell artefacts, metal and pottery handcrafts, traditional clothes and plaster models of famous heritage sites.
Pigeon Square beside the souq is home to a large number of pigeons that gather there to collect grains, intentionally scattered in the place by the souq’s traders in order to keep pigeons faithful to the square. Many women with their children love to spend time there, enjoying the presence of the birds, offering them grains and taking pictures in the middle of hundreds of pigeons.
One would also notice the special uniform of the souq’s policemen, who preserve the old costume with the local head cover (eqal and ghatrah). Besides directing traffic, they also guard the souq and ensure its security.