Old Wall of Kuwait (2)

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.” People did not settle in Kuwait due to natural resources “but because of its geopolitical position at the head of the Gulf… 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 there 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 photos below show Shamiya Gate, the book pages are from Kuwait by Ralph Shaw.

In his work Shipmasters of Kuwait: A Glorious Era Before the Oil Discovery, Khaled H. Bourisly writes about the old city wall and its five gates. He says that the final wall originally had four gates but that, “in the year 1927, another gate was added to make a total of five. The wall also comprised 26 war towers. In the Kuwaiti dialect, such towers are referred to as ‘ghowals.’ Bneid-Al Gar Gate has now become a part of the Dasman Palace. Al Shamiyah Gate was named so because it was located close to Al-Shamiya Village in the olden days. Al-Shamiya village was mainly known for the various drinking water wells it possessed. Al Jahra Gate was built on Al Jahra road, hence got this name. Al Magsab gate was the latest gate to be built in 1927. Al Magsab is a term used to refer to the place where lamb, cows and camel were slaughtered for their meat and sold. The rest of the fence was demolished by the government in 1957, but the five gates remain even today, as silent spectators to the changing history of this country.” Below are Al Shaab Gate, located in Shaheed Park, and Bneid al Gar Gate, which can be seen along Gulf Road (on google maps it is listed as “Al-Sharq Gate.”)

Here are old photos of the wall and its demolition in 1957 from a work by Sulaiman Al-Awadhi

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