Settlements of Qatar

Ancient Towns

Ancient settlements can be discovered across Qatar, many of them only briefly investigated in the past, and only a few of them extensively excavated and documented. They range from abandoned towns to villages and medieval Islamic settlements.

The Remains of Ruwayda

Very little was known about Ruwayda, once an ancient town in northern Qatar that was abandoned by the end of 18th century. Now, it is one of the largest archaeological sites in northern Qatar, stretching for more than 2.5km along the beach of a shallow bay.

Recent excavations have revealed a large fortress, palatial residence, two wells, warehouses, a mosque, a ship repair shop, a walled tomb, and the remains of other temporary structures. Findings from the sea nearby tell a story of far-reaching trade contacts, with porcelain cups from China, Japan and Myanmar, earthenware from Julfar and Bahrain, and stone paste fritware from Iran. Ceramics from Europe have been found, mangrove beams, thought to have roofed the rooms, imported from Africa, red granite mortars probably from Iran, and a piece of bone carved in the form of an Oryx.


Bone carved in the form of an Oryx, discovered at Ruwayda
Bone carved in the form of an Oryx, discovered at Ruwayda

The site of Freiha

Freiha is a small abandoned town situated in a shallow bay, 5km north of Zubarah. Excavation and research suggest that the town dates from the early 18th century to the mid-19th century, when it is thought to have been abandoned. This means that Freiha predates Al Zubarah and was possibly abandoned when the new town was established. The settlement seems to have changed shape and size over time, sometimes growing and then shrinking. These changes in fortune and population are reflected in the buildings, with occasional abandonment and frequent remodelling of homes.

In the centre of the site is the fort, a 45 meter square building with high defensive walls and corner towers. On the shoreline closeby are the remains of a traditional Qatari mosque. Fishing was clearly important for the inhabitants of Freiha – fish bones were recovered from the town and stone fish traps still survive in the sea.


The archaeological site of Frieha, in northern Qatar
The archaeological site of Frieha, in northern Qatar

Medieval Murwab

Murwab is the only sizeable medieval Islamic settlement in Qatar not located on the coast. It had some 220 housing units, constructed in groups, a palatial residence, workshops and two mosques. Excavations have also revealed a group of tombs scattered around the groups of houses.

The Murwab palatial residence is known to be the oldest discovered Islamic palace in Qatar. The excavated foundation walls overlaying one and other indicate that it was rebuilt in the same place, reducing its size. The rectangular plan of the residence is similar to Umayyad and Abbasid palatial residences from Iraq, Syria and Iran. The structure, with walls preserved up to 1m, was restored in 1985.

Field research and comparative studies of some of the artefacts retrieved at Murwab, like coins and pottery, attest the foundations of the site to the early Abbasid period in the 9th century and an occupation for at least a century. This makes Murwab an exceptional site of reference to the material culture of the Abbasid period and a unique Abbasid site within the Gulf region.


Other villages and settlements widespread along Qatar’s coastline and inland were abandoned long ago. Some of them have been documented, but wait to be fully investigated, like Fuwayrat and Al Ghariya; others have been the focus of more recent research, like the northern villages of Al Arish, Al Jumail, Ain Mohammed or Umm Al Houl, south of Al Wakra.


Artefacts uncovered at Murwab include pottery from the Abbasid period
Artefacts uncovered at Murwab include pottery from the Abbasid period

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