Old Wall of Kuwait (1)

Kuwait had three mud brick city walls in its history–the first was built in 1760, the second in 1811, and the third in 1920.

  • First Wall: before the migration of the Bani 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.” After the migration of the Bani Utub, the settlement began to grow and a wall was constructed around the town. Hakima continues, “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.”
  • Second Wall: as the town and its population expanded, the second wall was built in 1811 to accommodate the growth. Hakima tells us about a traveler who visited Kuwait in 1863 and remarked that the town had 15,000 inhabitants and that the gates of the wall were left open after sunset to allow the Bedouins to enter and have an evening meal inside. Hakima writes that, “the only condition enforced upon them when entering the gates was to lay their arms outside to ensure the town’s safety… although the wall was built of mud and could be heavily damaged by rain, it still served as an adequate defense against raids as recently as the early twentieth century.”
  • Third Wall: Mubarak Al-Sabah ruled Kuwait between 1896 and 1915. Souad M. Al-Sabah writes in her book on Mubarak that despite the external dangers during his reign, he chose not to reinforce the old wall or build a new one. When asked why, he responded, “I am the wall.” But later, a third wall was erected in 1920 under Sheikh Salim Al-Mubarak. In Voice of the Oud, Jehan Rajab tells us that the third city wall originally included four gates: Jahra Gate, Shamiya Gate, Braiasi Gate (located in Shaheed Park today), and Dasman Gate. Maqsab Gate was added later. Rajab also writes that Maqsab had a slaughterhouse nearby that tossed refuge into the sea, which attracted sharks. In May of 1969, National Geographic published a story on Kuwait entitled “Aladdin’s Lamp of the Middle East.” In the article Dr. Lewis R. Scudder, an American doctor who first came to Kuwait in 1939, 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 1920 city wall was bulldozed in 1957 as part of the First Master Plan which dramatically changed Kuwait’s urban landscape, but the gates were saved. Today, you can find them dispersed around Kuwait City. You can see Al Maqsab Gate (across the street from the Holy Family Cathedral), its miniature in Shaheed Park and display in a hotel below.

Below you can see Al-Jahra Gate, located on a roundabout near the Sheraton Hotel, and illustrations 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, an old magazine listed for sale on eBay, KOC Archive, the flickr of Verity Cridland

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

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