Al Jahra Gate

In May of 1969, National Geographic published a story on Kuwait entitled “Aladdin’s Lamp of the Middle East.” In it, they interview Dr. Lewis R. Scudder, an American doctor who first came to Kuwait in 1939. He reminisced, “the gates were locked at night, and you had to get a watchman up to let you through. Most houses were one story high, made of mud or coral rock with mud interiors.” The gates he mentions were part of an old city wall around Kuwait City that no longer exists. Before the migration of the Utub from Central Arabia, a tribal confederation known as the Bani Khalid controlled the region. The name “Kuwait” is derived from “Kut” meaning “little fort,” referring to a small residence the Bani Khaled leader Barrak had built to be his summer residence, perhaps around the year 1680. Around this time, Kuwait (then known as Grane) was just a small fishing village. Abu Hakima writes in his work The Modern History of Kuwait that, “local tradition states that the town was not walled from the beginning because the Bani Khalid authority was respected by other Bedouin tribes. No date for the building of the wall is given but it is estimated to have been around 1760, eight years after the Bani Khalid had lost their influence among the Arab tribes.” In her work Kuwait Transformed, Farah Al-Nakib outlines the history of the city walls. The first wall was built by Sabah I in around 1760, as aforementioned. As the city and population expanded, a second was built in 1811 to accommodate the growth. Souad M. Al-Sabah writes in her book on Mubarak Al-Sabah that despite the external dangers during his reign, Mubarak chose not to reinforce the old or build a new wall. When asked why, he responded, “I am the wall.” A third wall was erected in 1920 under Sheikh Salim Al-Mubarak. In The Voice of the Oud, Jehan S. Rajab tells us that one of the gates near the sea had a slaughterhouse nearby that tossed refuge into the sea and attracted sharks. The 1920 city wall was bulldozed in 1957 but five of the gates were saved and you can find them dispersed around Kuwait City today. Below you can see Al-Jahra Gate in a roundabout near the Sheraton and illustrations from the work The Kuwait Urbanization by Saba George Shiber.

Jahra Gate is across the street from the Thunayan Al-Ghanim Building, which was built in 1959 and was the first multi-storey building in Kuwait. The photos below show the building and the gate in the early 60s and come from the flickr of Brett Jordan, 248, KOC Archive, and the flickr of Verity Cridland.

Here are two photos by Mark Lowey. a publication from 1968, and an old postcard.


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