What Is(n't) New?

If we were to play word association and you said ‘culture,’ I’d spew off a stream of words like ‘tradition’ and ‘history.’ Maybe that’s why I was so surprised to visit Doha’s Katara Cultural Center only to find that everything was under construction. I shouldn’t be surprised of course—almost everything here is under construction or has been finished or remodeled within the past 25 years. After spending a week seeing cranes and dodging construction projects on my way to the Souq; however, I was ready to see some traditional Qatari architecture.

Katara uses its opera halls, art galleries, amphitheater, and beaches to bring people together through the arts. But despite it’s incredible mission and beauty, I was a little disappointed. I wanted to see some of the oldness that doesn’t seem to be accepted in Doha’s makeover.

Mosque at Katara

Mosque at Katara

It seems that the only thing old here is the tradition of the people themselves: the dress, the dedication to prayer time, the way people greet one another. It seems that in the rush to renovate, the city that went along with those traditions is disappearing, leaving an interesting juxtaposition between old culture and new environment. And although not everything is nice, very few things can be considered historic. Even in Souq Waqif, a traditional market filled with shops and restaurants, the narrow hallways and cobblestone streets are contrasted by an insanely fancy parking ramp and construction.

Maybe a high school trip to Europe deluded me into thinking that every building I passed or street I walked down would have an incredibly rich history, but my expectations for Doha were definitely along those lines. The more I’ve considered; however, the more I realize that perhaps Qatar has never had the chance to build—now, thanks to oil money, the country is making a name and a history for itself in a way it never had the opportunity to before.

More images from Katara:

Gina Van ThommeComment