In the book Kuwait by the First Photographers, William Facey and Gillian Grant write that, “Kuwait as a whole was a place with absolutely no natural resources–until, of course, the discovery of oil in 1938.” Before modern times, people did not settle in Kuwait due to natural resources “but because of its geopolitical position at the head of the Gulf. Kuwait was close to the markets of Mesopotamia and yet just outside the political reach of its rulers. It had a fine natural harbor at a convenient point on the coast for the overland trade of northern Arabia to meet the trade of the Gulf and Indian Ocean.” With no permanent rivers, Kuwaitis got their water from the Shatt al-Arab that arrived on dhow ships or from the freshwater wells outside of town (nowadays water is desalinated). Facey and Grant comment that, ”there is always something fascinating about communities living, like the Kuwaitis, at the very margin of their environmental possibilities and overcoming their disadvantages.”
The freshwater wells were located just beyond al-Shamiya Gate. Travelers stopped here before traveling onto Bilad Al-Sham (the Levant). The Shamiya area did not become residential until the 1930s (which is when the old photograph dates from). According to a wonderful short work on Dame Violet Dickson by Claudia Al Rushoud, Dickson remembered that, “when I came to Kuwait in 1929 the desert of Arabia and the hinterland of Kuwait were to me a great and rather frightening unknown. Outside the city walls, the narrow camel paths led away from the Shamiya wells to the south, disappearing into the dusty haze of early summer.” Violet went on to fall in love with the desert, notably writing the book The Wild Flowers of Kuwait and Bahrain. The last photograph below comes from the 1976 book “Kuwait” by Ralph Shaw.