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Kuwait

Introduction

Kuwait is a small independent Arab nation located in the northeastern Arabian Peninsula on the northwestern coast of the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf. It is located in a desert region and borders Iraq to the north and west, Saudi Arabia to the south and southwest, and the Gulf to the east. Directly across the Gulf is Iran.

Kuwait’s chief port and national capital is Kuwait City. Whilst it may not be particularly popular as a tourist destination at the time of writing, Kuwait is rich in heritage and inhabited by very friendly people whom, perhaps, show a great deal of humility; this, compounded by the lack of commercialisation in comparison to some of the other Gulf States, can make a visit here more authentic in terms of getting the opportunity to experience Arabian culture. This webpage begins with a short description of the land and its people, followed by a look at some of the sites which were seen here during a brief 4-day visit in December, 2019.

Above: The modern face of Kuwait City

Page Contents:

Either click on one of the section titles below (then click back in your browser to return to the contents), or continue scrolling down the page.

A General Description of Kuwait’s Land and People
A Brief Note About the Visit
Kuwait Towers
Kuwait National Museum
Old/Heritage Souk area of Kuwait City
Liberation Tower
Dar al Athar al Islamiyyah - Amricani Cultural Centre
The Grand Mosque of Kuwait
Habitat Museum, Al Shaheed Park
Green Island
The Mirror House
Adailiya
The Avenues Shopping Mall
Al Qurain Martyrs’ Museum
KOC Ahmad Al-Jaber Oil & Gas Exhibition
Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway
Highway of Death
Other Sights
References and Further Reading

A General Description of Kuwait’s Land and People

The name “Kuwait” comes from a form of the Arabic word “kut”, which refers to a fortress which is built near water. The country was named after its capital and has one of the world’s largest proven oil fields, something that the Iraqis under Saddam Hussein did their best to destroy in their 1990-91 invasion and occupation. Before the invasion, as a leading oil producer, Kuwait was one of the world’s wealthiest countries; the national economy is based on oil, which was first discovered here in 1938 and developed commercially after World War II. Since the time of the Iraqi occupation, Kuwait has been recovering from the widespread destruction left by the Iraqis. Despite some difficult times in more recent years, it is not all doom and gloom for this small nation; Kuwait is home to 6% of the world’s oil reserves and whilst oil and oil-related products dominate the economy, the country still has over 100 years’ worth of oil remaining. Thus, the need to diversify has not been as urgent as it has been in other countries in the region, something illustrated by Saudi Arabia’s decision to start issuing tourist visas in 2018.

Above: The Gulf coast in Kuwait

The climate in Kuwait is hot and humid, with daytime temperatures in summer reaching as high as 49°C (120°F) or more. Sandstorms typically occur from March to April and August and September typically see high humidity. The winters are cooler, with daytime temperatures ranging from 10°C to 16°C (50-60°F). Kuwait’s average rainfall is a mere 2½ to 18cm (1-7”) yearly, all of which falls from October to April.
Except for the Al-Jarah Oasis and a few fertile regions in the southeast and coastal areas, Kuwait is almost entirely barren desert; soils are practically non-existent. Several islands are included in its borders, with the uninhabited low-lying and marshy Bubiyan being the largest and Failaka being the most densely populated. Including the islands, the country’s total area is 17,818 km² (6,880 square miles). A significant feature along Kuwait’s Gulf coastline is Kuwait Bay, which has formed a natural protected harbour for many centuries. Kuwait City is located on the southern side of the bay. Although most of the country’s desert is flat, there are a couple of low ridges where the oil is located. In terms of Flora and Fauna, the Iraqi occupation and resulting damage to the environment had a major impact on the biodiversity of the area and recovery efforts were slow to start off with. Within Kuwait, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognizes five protected areas. Kuwait’s signing up to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands entered into force in 2015 and as a result of this, Bubiyan Island's 50,948-hectare (nearly 200-square mile) Mubarak al-Kabeer reserve was designated as the country's first Wetland of International Importance. The area here contains small lagoons and shallow salt marshes and is of importance as a stopping place for migrating birds. Of the over 350 bird species which have been recorded in Kuwait, 18 are known to breed here (e.g. the socotra cormorant, and four species of tern), whilst the country effectively forms a crossroads of several major bird migration routes; an estimated two to three million birds The harsh climate and low rainfall limit the range of plants that grow in Kuwait, although about four hundred species of wild plant have been recorded. Nocturnal desert fauna includes caracals (a medium-sized wild cat), big-eared fennecs, jerboas, hedgehogs, desert rabbits, and dhobs (a spiny tailed monitor lizard). In all, twenty eight species of mammal are found in Kuwait and forty non-endemic species of reptile. Kuwait's marine and littoral ecosystems contain the bulk of the country's biodiversity. The anticlockwise flow of Gulf currents helps Kuwait’s shoreline by carrying nutrients from the freshwater marshes of Shatt Al Arab and the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in southern Iraq. Consequently, Kuwait has a rich and diverse coastline that has remained relatively robust with respect to human activity.

Above: Fully zoomable map of Kuwait (Google Maps)

As of 2018, Kuwait’s total population was 4.6 million people, of whom only 1.4 million were Kuwaiti citizens. The native population of Kuwait consists of Arabs (Arabic is the official language and Islam the official religion) and citizenship is reserved only for those able to demonstrate local ancestry from before 1920. The non-native population largely comprises foreign workers in the oil industry and other lines of work, such as hospitality and construction. Foreign workers here are typically Palestinian, Iraqis, Iranians, Indians, Pakistanis and Egyptians. That said, they can come from almost anywhere... one of the cleaners from the hotel stayed at during this visit came from Nepal. Foreign workers are not allowed citizenship, even if they spend their entire working life in Kuwait. Furthermore, children born in Kuwait to foreign workers are not granted citizenship either. After retirement, foreign workers are asked to leave the country. Nearly all the country’s population is concentrated in urban areas. Important urban areas include Kuwait City (the seat of government and the chief port), Ahmadi, Hawally, Salmiya, Sabah Al Salem, Al Farwaniyah, Fahaheel, and Rumaithiya (note that given here are the “Anglicized” spellings and alternative spellings may be seen). As the country undergoes continued construction, to house a rapidly growing population, new urban areas within Kuwait are either being built, or in the planning stage.

Above: The $30 million Al-Hashemi-II is the largest dhow ever built. It was constructed from 1997 to 2001 and used for meetings and events. It is one of the largest wooden ships, although has never been floated; a contrast from traditional seagoing dhows which have been used for trading for centuries. The Al-Hashemi-II sits next to the Radisson Blu Hotel and the Al-Hashemi Marine Museum, approximately 20km (12½ miles) southeast of the centre of Kuwait City.

A brief history of Kuwait follows: Evidence from archaeological study shows people lived in what is now Kuwait around 5000 BC. From 4000 to 2000 BC, the Dilmun civilization occupied the area, controlling the trade route to India. The Dilmun people, who saw the benefits of living by the mouths of two great rivers (the Euphrates and the Tigris) built a large town on Failaka Island and its remains form some of the best evidence of Bronze Age life in the world. The Babylonians then took over the area, followed by the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. The Islamic revolution swept thought the area during the 7th-century AD and not much is known about Kuwait from then, until the 18th-century. Modern-day Kuwait was founded in 1722 by the Utub section of the Anaiza tribe of Arabs, who came here to escape a drought which was occurring inland on the Arabian Peninsula during that time. The Utub, alongside a small number of existing inhabitants already in the area, made their living by trading, fishing, and pearling. In 1756, Sabah Bin Jabir was elected leader (sheikh) of the Kuwaiti Utub people and the Kuwait’s head of state has been a member of the Al Sabah family ever since. Kuwait has historically been an ally of Britain for a number of reasons. From the 1770’s, arrangements were in place for the British to deliver mail between the Gulf and Aleppo in Syria, whilst Kuwait handled the shipment of goods to and from India. In 1899, fearing annexation by the Ottomans, Kuwait’s Sheikh Mubarak Bin Sabah Al Sabah (commonly known as Mubarak the Great) signed an agreement with Britain for the country to become a British-protected state. In return, he promised not to give any territory to, negotiate with or take support from any other foreign power without the consent of the British. Kuwait was granted self-rule in 1914, although remained a British protectorate until 1961 when it became officially independent by mutual consent with the British. In a rather ominous move, the president of Iraq at that time immediately claimed Kuwait as Iraqi territory. The Kuwaiti government is a constitutional monarchy, which has a provision for an elected parliamentary body. Although elections for Kuwait’s first National Assembly were held in 1962, the monarchy has rarely allowed it to exist. Over the years, Kuwait has suffered continual conflicts with Iraq and Iran, most notably with the Saddam Hussein-led Iraqi invasion, which took place on 2nd August 1990. During the Iraqi occupation, Kuwaiti citizens suffered arrests, beatings, torturing, rape and murder, and a large amount of property was either stolen or destroyed. On 15th January 1991, after a deadline given to Iraq to leave Kuwait had expired, Allied aircraft led by the United States began a five-week bombing campaign known as “Desert Storm”. Over half a million foreign troops had amassed in Saudi Arabia and the crumbing Iraqi army were soon driven out of Kuwait, with the Allied forces arriving in Kuwait City to a jubilant crowd on 26th February 1991. As they retreated, the Iraqi army conducted what they called a “scorched earth” campaign, bombing and burning oil wells, roads and buildings. Ignoring demands to fully retreat unarmed and on foot, a stalled convoy of Iraqi armored vehicles (including tanks), attempting to ascend Mutla Ridge, became the target of a savage Allied attack referred to by one pilot as a “turkey shoot”. Some 2,000 Iraqi troops were captured and estimates of the number of retreating Iraqi troops killed vary from 200 to over 1000; it is for this reason, the six-lane Highway-80 along here (the road leading from Kuwait City to the Iraqi border town of Safwan and on to Basra in Iraq) is known as the “Highway of Death”. The physical, social and emotional rebuilding of Kuwait resulting from the Iraq invasion and occupation has since that time, and will continue to take, many, many years. That said, the rebuilding so far has been a tremendous success, although this has come at a huge financial cost.

Above: Water Towers in Adailiya Public Garden (More about these further down the page)

After the Iraqi occupation of August 1990 to February 1991, elections were held for a new Assembly 9in 1992) and the majority of those elected were considered to be in “opposition” to the monarchy. During the Arab Spring of 2011, the Kuwaiti Prime Minister was forced from office, In 2014, a broad coalition united and called for the nation to become a full parliamentary democracy. However, the ruling Al Sabah family managed to keep a grip on power, largely keeping its own counsel. Whilst things have settled down a little, there still remains a fear of sectarian violence. Today in Kuwait City, ultra-modern skyscrapers tower over contrasting empty blocks and run-down city-centre buildings, whilst some of the museums are missing many artefacts which would have once filled their cabinets. Recent developments include “Vision 2035”, a bold plan to transform Kuwait by diversifying its economy to face long-term challenges. Tens of billions of US Dollars have and are to be pumped into the country, building new infrastructure and there is even an entirely new city proposed (Madinat al-Hareer or “Silk City”) for the other side of Kuwait Bay from Kuwait City. The plans for it include an Olympic Stadium, residences, hotels, retail facilities and a new airport.

A Brief Note About the Visit

As mentioned earlier, the visit to Kuwait and the sights seen featured on this webpage took place in December. From a personal point-of-view, this time of year was deemed suitable with respect to the high temperatures this part of the world can experience during summer months. Although there are direct flights from London (and many other major cities), the trip was undertaken on a relatively low-budget, which entailed flying on Turkish low-cost airline Pegasus Airlines, and spending some time transiting at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen International Airport. On arrival, contrary to a fee mentioned by the Embassy in London, a tourist visa for a full British passport was obtainable free-of-charge, after filling out a form. A hotel address was required. It is advisable for any national to check the particulars for entry with their local embassy or consulate prior to travel and also take note that Israeli or Iraqi passport stamps are problematic. Kuwait City has no trains or metro system and so airport transfer typically involves taking a bus, taxi, or in this case, hiring a car. Whilst the car proved invaluable for getting around the sights, it may be worth noting that driving around Kuwait is not for the feint-hearted and requires a certain combination of tolerance and assertiveness. Kuwait has all manner of accommodation types to suit a wide range of budgets. In this case, one of the less-expensive options came in the form of staying at the Gulf Hotel, Salmiya. The rooms were spacious enough, parking was possible either on-site, if lucky, or on the street nearby. The reception is 24-hour, the WiFi worked, the toilet not so well, breakfast not included (but in the foyer was situated a Costa Coffee), and the claim on a well-known accommodation booking website that “all rooms have a balcony” is wrong. Although that said, the hotel was considered clean, comfortable, friendly and good value for money. It may be worth noting to the reader here that Kuwait is a completely dry state, which means alcohol is strictly forbidden. Unlike some other Arab states, this means not even in hotels.
And so, below are some of the highlights of Kuwait which were seen during this visit. These are followed by a brief mention of some other sights in the country which were not seen, due to time constraints, finishing off with a list of references and selected resources for further reading.

Kuwait Towers

The Kuwait Towers, with their distinctive blue-green ‘sequins’, are one of the most famous landmarks in Kuwait. Located on a headland just northeast of the centre of Kuwait City in the Sharq district, they comprise two major towers and a minor tower. They Designed by a Swedish architectural firm, they opened in 1979, and were the sixth, and last, group in the larger Kuwait Water Towers system of 34 towers. The Kuwait Towers were built in a style quite different from the other five groups and the largest of the three contains an international buffet restaurant at 82m (approx. 270 feet) up and a rotating 360° viewing platform at 120m (approx. 400 feet).

 

The Kuwait Towers’ design represents a combination of modern architectural themes with traditional Islamic design, drawing similarities to blue-tiled mosques and slender minarets seen in Uzbekistan. The main tower rises to 187m (614 feet) and has two spheres – the lower sphere containing a water tank in its bottom half and a restaurant, café, lounge and reception hall in its upper half. The upper sphere contains the rotating viewing platform, which takes 30 minutes to turn a full 360°. The second tower is 147m (482 feet) high and serves solely as a water tower, whilst the third tower has no water tank and serves to hose equipment that illuminates the two larger towers. Some photographs taken from around the base of the Kuwait Towers and from atop the viewing platform are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

More follows about the Kuwait Water Towers system of 34 towers in the section about a visit to the Public Garden in Adailiya, further down the page. The Kuwait Towers, themselves, on the sixth and final site of the water tower project, are quite different from the others found in Kuwait. For this site, the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed, wanted a more attractive design. Out of ten different suggestions, three were presented to the Emir, who chose which design would be used. Construction took place from 1971 to 1976 and the main tower was inaugurated in 1979. The design incorporates 41,000 enameled steel discs covering the spheres, and these are painted with eight different shades of blue, green and grey. According to their Danish architect Malene Bjørn, the group of three towers here represents the “ideals of humanity and technology, symbolised by the globe and the rocket”. During the occupation, the towers were damaged by the Iraqis and subsequently underwent repair and refurbishment, reopening in December 1992, much to the delight of the Kuwaiti citizens. Further maintenance took place from 2012 to 2016, with yet, another celebrated reopening. Whilst Kuwait in more recent years has seen many new and impressive skyscrapers being completed*, many dwarfing the Kuwait Towers, the latter retains a sense of history and, as a symbol of the Kuwaiti people, its profile should remain high for many years to come.

* A diagram showing the tallest buildings in the Kuwait City area may be found on SkysraperPage.com Here.

Kuwait National Museum

The Kuwait National Museum is located on the Arabian Gulf Street between the Seif Palace and National Assembly. It has 3 main sections - Heritage, Archaeology and a Planetarium. The museum, designed by French architect Michel Ecochard, was once the pride of Kuwait and held one of the most important collections of Islamic art in the world. Sadly, the museum was plundered and destroyed by the Iraqi regime during the occupation of August 1990 to February 1991. The museum has been renovated and re-opened with many of the previously exhibited artefacts, although a significant number of the original collection’s treasures (another 487) remain unaccounted for.

On display in the Kuwait National Museum’s archaeology section are, amongst other items, old tools, ancient coins, pots, a 17th-century chess game, ancient Qur'ans (Korans) and a full-sized carved doorway. There are several empty display cases and although this may seem uninteresting, as there is nothing to see inside them, perhaps they, in themselves, make for some poignant reflection about what happened here in the early 1990’s. In the heritage part of the museum, there are old photos dating back to 1942, followed by engaging life-sized displays showing reconstructions of a souq and interior scenes depicting the traditional Kuwaiti way of life. Displays include stores selling utensils and household items (many of which would have been imported from India), leather products (mainly from camel and sheep skin), a bakers, a dates market and an arms market. There is also a model of a school, a dhow building and fishing scene, a depiction of a diwaniyyah (a traditional gathering place for men in the Arab world), and various domestic rooms recreated here. In general, the museum here displays artifacts showing what Kuwait was like during the 1940's and 1950's. The National Museum also exhibits the Al-Sabah dynasty’s art collection and outside the building is a magnificent trading dhow, which is a 1997 replacement for a 1930’s vessel, set alight during the occupation. Some photographs taken from a visit to the Kuwait National Museum are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

Old/Heritage Souk area of Kuwait City

The reader may well be aware that a souq (or souk) is a marketplace typically found in Arab-speaking countries, synonymous with the term bazaar. The old souq area of Kuwait City is quite large and there are several sections of it. It would indeed take many hours to explore them in full, although during the visit to Kuwait here, a brief walk was taken around some of the main markets during the daytime; time permitting, an ideal visit would have also taken place in the evening when some of the stalls can get busier. The walk began with a look at Souq Al Hareem (the Women’s Market). Also referred to as Wajif Market, this souq marks the doorway to the old/heritage souk area in the city centre and was named so because all of the sellers were historically women. During its heyday, dozens of women here would have been selling traditional clothing, makeup, teeth-cleaning products, and various women’s accessories. The female vendor’s have been under threat in more recent times and all but a few are left. The walk continued through Souq Al Mubarakiya, one of the oldest and most well-established of the city’s traditional souks; it is at least 200 years old and formed the centre of trade, prior to the discovery of oil. Suffering damage during the Iraqi occupation, it was subsequently repaired, returning to its traditional daily trading. Here may be found all manner of good, from Persian silk carpets and genuine Arab antiquities to clothes, perfumes, jewelry and foodstuffs. Souq Al Mubarakiya is also home to two small admission-free museums, Sheikh Mubarak Kiosk and the first Islamic pharmacy in Kuwait. A courtyard near Al-Bahar or Sea Mosque is home to traditional cafes and several small open air restaurants serving traditional Arabian and west Asian food. Finally, the walk finished with a look at the main Gold Souq which, alas, was closed at the time. Looking like a concrete brutalistic fortress from the outside, as the name suggests, for sale here are all kinds of Arabic and Indian jewelry. The trading of gold bars of varying sizes also takes place here.
Within the city’s souqs, there is often scope for haggling on prices. Generally, the idea is to start bartering for an item you genuinely want, and be polite in line with local customs, but firm without appearing that you really do want to buy it. The photos in the thumbnail gallery below were taken during the walk just described (click on an image to enlarge):

Liberation Tower

Constructed from 1987 to 1993, with interruption during the Iraqi Occupation, Kuwait City’s Liberation Tower is a telecommunications tower which stands at a height of 372m (1220 feet). More about this can be found on a separate webpage on this website in the section all about different communication towers. Link Here (or click on one of the photographs below).

     

Dar al Athar al Islamiyyah - Amricani Cultural Centre

Located on the corner of Arabian Gulf Road and al-Shuhada Street by the National Assembly Parliament building is The Amricani Cultural Centre (American Cultural Centre). The building here is one of several cultural centres in Kuwait operated by Dar al Athar al Islamiyyah, an organisation which has a collection of more than 20,000 items of rare Islamic art. The collection is owned by Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah and his wife Sheikha Hussa Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah. Inside the Amricani Cultural Centre are some stunning galleries exhibiting some of the highlights of the collection, part of which was also in the Kuwait National Museum before the Iraqi invasion. With informative notices in Arabic and English, the collection here includes beautiful sculptures, pottery, archaeological finds and other pieces from across the region and from the pre-Islamic period. In some respects, it is richer than the Kuwait National Museum, although on a smaller scale.

The building housing the Amricani Cultural Centre dates back to the late 1930’s and was originally built as the American hospitals for women and men. The former women’s hospital has been used as a home of the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah administrative offices and a library, whilst the larger former men’s hospital used as a training centre for Kuwaiti museum specialists. One minor drawback about the Amricani Cultural Centre exhibition spaces is that photography is not permitted (this, however, should not put visitors off by any means). Across the courtyard from the entrance to the Amricani Cultural Centre was an interesting exhibition showcasing modern architecture in Kuwait from 1949 to 1989. Whilst some readers may find the idea of looking at the modern architecture of various constructions from schools to residential buildings in this part of the world not very appealing, the author here, who recently completed an introductory architecture course (purely for personal interest) found the exhibition fascinating. Some photographs from outside the Dar al Athar al Islamiyyah Amricani Cultural Centre and from inside the adjacent modern architecture exhibition may be found in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

The Grand Mosque of Kuwait

Located in its heart, The Grand Mosque is the largest of Kuwait City’s 800 mosques. It is the official mosque of Kuwait and opened in 1986 at a cost equivalent to 46 million US Dollars. It covers an area of some 45,000m² (480,000 square feet) with the building itself covering some 20,000m² (220,000 square feet).

The main prayer hall measures 72m (236 feet) on all sides and the building can accommodate up to 10,000 men in the main prayer hall, up to 950 women in a separate hall for women, and 7,000 worshipers in its palm tree-lined courtyard. The mosque completely survived the Iraqi invasion and contains a number of extravagant features, including Indian teakwood doors to the main prayer hall, Italian marble detailing, French stained glass, chandeliers from Germany, mosaics from Morocco, and a 26m (85 foot)-wide gold-plated central dome. The mosque also has a library of Islamic reference books and documents, a multi-level car park and at 74m (243 foot) tall, Kuwait’s highest minaret. Some other photographs of the Grand Mosque of Kuwait taken from different angles may be found in the final thumbnail gallery towards the bottom of this webpage (photos 258-265).

Habitat Museum, Al Shaheed Park

Located on the periphery of Kuwait City is Al Shaheed Park, a 22-hectare (54-acre) green space, which features beautiful botanical gardens, a lake, two museums (the Memorial and the Habitat Museums), an amphitheatre for outdoor events, restaurants, a visitor centre, and over 2km (1¼ miles) of jogging and walking paths. Kuwait’s largest urban park, it would be easy to spend a whole day here. Just outside Al Shaheed Park is a designated “resting area” for migrating birds, whilst the immaculately kept park, itself, is floodlit at night and also has a conveniently situated underground car park. During the visit to Kuwait featured on this webpage, time permitted a brief walk through the park and a visit to the aforementioned Habitat Museum.
The Habitat Museum’s informative exhibits illustrate the unique beauty of Kuwait’s flora and fauna. It is the country’s first such exhibition and takes visitors on an interactive journey through the area’s ecosystems, which include migratory birdlife, native plants and desert landscapes. The museum’s mission is to “encourage environmental stewardship efforts in Kuwait by promoting environmental awareness and education about conserving our natural resources”. The flora exhibits feature a gallery of various local plants that flourish in the desert environment and how they have been used by people of the past. The fauna exhibits describe the various animals that thrive in Kuwait’s desert and coastal environment. Amongst these are the wild rodents, such as the jerboa, birds of prey, such as the Steppe Eagle and coastal birds, including the Greater Flamingo. Amongst the museums interactive displays is the “Forces Theater” – a 26-metre long audiovisual projection displaying the different habitats of Kuwait with panoramic views displayed. The museum also has a learning place for children (“Kids Habitat”), a multi-purpose classroom, rooftop garden and an aviary. With various guides, tours and events available, further information may be sought by (apparently) visiting the park’s museum website Here. Changing the subject, slightly, just outside the museum was a sculpture which caught the author of this page’s imagination. Seemingly a pile of junk, but when viewed from the correct angle (through an open letterbox atop a post), the items suddenly form a striking image of camels in various postures. Photographs from the visit to Al Shaheed Park and the Habitat Museum are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

Green Island

Moving further out of Kuwait city itself (although effectively still in the same urban area) about 9km (roughly 5½ miles) southeast of the city centre and along the Gulf coastline is the man-made Green Island. The island, connected by a causeway is a popular retreat and well-known as the perfect place for relaxing.

The island spans an area of some 78½ hectares (194 acres). It is surrounded by natural rocks brought in from the United Arab Emirate of Al-Fujairah and sits on reclaimed land, forming an artificial island. It was created in 1988 and a large number of shrubs and seedlings were planted here; contrasting with the mainland’s desert area, the greenery gave rise to the new island’s name. As well as sandy beach areas, the island has a swimming pool, alongside leisure activities, which include a 700-seat amphitheatre, a water tower with a panoramic viewing platform and a “Kid’s Castle”, restaurants, play areas, a land-train, cycle hire, paths for walking and open spaces ideal for picnicking. The photos below were taken during a visit to Green Island which included a walk up to another panoramic viewing area, atop a large concrete structure containing a gentle stepped spiral ramp (click on an image to enlarge):

The Mirror House

Billed as “The ONLY House in the world covered entirely with Mirror Mosaic!”, The Mirror House is a residential house covered with mirror mosaics, both inside and out. Located at House 17, St 94, Block 9, Qadisiya, the house may be visited by appointment only; it is the creation of eccentric Italian-Kuwaiti artist Lidia Al Qattan and although this is a lived-in building, the owners are eager to show interested visitors their home.

The Mirror House Project began in 1966 and, after various phases, was completed in 2006. In all, approximately 100 tonnes of white cement and 75 tonnes of mirror were used to produce the mirror mosaics which cover the house with all manner of designs. The house is now considered a museum, as it has been turned into a work of art using broken pieces of mirrored-glass to decorate it throughout. The art galleries upstairs hold a collection of pieces both Lidia and her artist husband, Khalifa Al Qattan, have created. The house is quite possibly not the most famous of attractions in Kuwait, but is nonetheless rather unique. Further information about The Mirror House may be found on the Atlas Obscura website Here, or on the Mirror House website (which includes plenty of photos of the interior) Here.

Adailiya

Also located away from the centre of Kuwait City (although effectively still in the same urban area) is the suburb of Adailiya. Found here (Block 4) is one of the oldest parks in Kuwait, Abraj Park – a public garden which contains a playground and popular with locals. The park has a large grassy area, although a visit was made here to look at its most dominating feature – a set of nine attractively painted water towers. The towers stand clustered in a form which, as seen from the ground, can almost feel like a small forest, shading the observer from the sun beaming in the sky above. These nine water towers form part of a nationwide network of infrastructural water supply and reservoirs, of which the more famous Kuwait Towers (featured further up this webpage) form a part of. The towers here in Abraj Park are in the typical “mushroom tower” form seen throughout Kuwait. All of the nation’s water towers were built for a national project which was part of Kuwait’s large scale modernization process following the first shipment of oil in 1946. In order to serve a growing population, the water towers were carefully planned in strategically placed groups, connecting to a grid, serving two existing distillation seawater plants. Prior to the construction of the water towers, reservoirs, and the nationwide grid, tanker trucks were used for the distribution of fresh water. The new system was commissioned in 1965 by the Ministry of Electricity and Water (MEW) to the Swedish architectural and engineering firm VBB (Vattenbyggnadsbyrån AB), with Sune Lindström as Chief Architect for the whole project.
The suburb of Adailiya is also home to the As-Sadāqa Was-salām Stadium of Kazma Sporting Club, home to headquarters of the Kuwait Football Association, and the location of several mosques. In the centre of this roughly square-shaped suburb and southwest of Abraj Park was seen a rather fetching roadside sign simply reading “Kuwait” (shown near the top of this webpage) and, perhaps, this makes for an ideal photo opportunity of oneself standing next to it to send to friends and family back home. Photographs taken from the visit to Adailiya are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

The Avenues Shopping Mall

Far from traditional for this part of the world and in contrast to the old souqs mentioned earlier on this webpage, a visit was made to one of Kuwait’s modern shopping malls, The Avenues. This shopping centre is (at the time of writing) the largest shopping mall in Kuwait and the second largest mall in the Middle East, the accolade of largest belonging to Dubai Mall in the United Arab Emirates. The Avenues is located in the Rai area and is approximately 15 kilometres (9-miles) drive southwest of central Kuwait City. Opening in 2007, the mall has since undergone a number of phased expansions and now contains some 800-plus shops and parking for over 10,000 cars. It is divided into various “districts”, each design drawing from various influences and with its own distinctive character; the main areas to-date are The Forum, 1st Avenue, 2nd Avenue, Grand Avenue, Prestige, The Mall, SoKu, The Souk (Marketplace), The Arcades, The Cinema, The Gardens, Electra and The Grand Plaza. There are also hotel facilities at the mall, as well as seemingly countless cafés and restaurants. The photos below show some views of The Avenue’s interior. Not to be missed is The Grand Plaza, which was designed with civic squares from around the world in mind, and also the Grand Avenue, which is designed to feel like an outdoor shopping boulevard, perhaps like one in Europe or North America, but completely inside and truly, as the name suggests, on a grand scale (click on an image to enlarge):

Al Qurain Martyrs’ Museum

Al-Qurain Martyrs Museum is located in the town of Al-Qurain, and is about a 24km (15-mile) drive southwards from Kuwait City. This sobering museum is the site of a bloody showdown between invading Iraqi forces and a cell of the popular resistance in Kuwait.

When Saddam Hussein’s Army invaded Kuwait on the 2nd August 1990, young Kuwaiti men rushed to form fighting groups as part of what is known as popular resistance. One of the organised groups adopted the name of Al-Messilah Group, (Kuwait Force). It comprised 31 young men with its main objective to resist the invading forces by all means. They collected weapons from military bases and even bought some from Iraqi soldiers who were ready to sell their weapons in order to buy food and water. Initially focusing on sniping Iraqi soldiers and planting bombs on Iraqi munitions trucks, as the Iraqis tightened their grip on Kuwait, the Al-Messilah Group had to move, eventually settling for a secured base inside an otherwise unoccupied house in the Al-Qurain district. Early on the morning of 24th February 1991, two days before the dawn of liberation, an Iraqi intelligence car stopped in front of the house being used as the Al-Messilah Group headquarters. It was patrolling the area, looking for young Kuwaiti men and was followed by a minibus transporting a number of armed Iraqis. An Iraqi soldier stepped outside of the car and walked towards the house. He knocked on the door. When no one answered the door, the Iraqis began firing at the doors and windows of the house, in an attempt to rout a cell of the Kuwaiti resistance sheltering inside. Inside the house, the Al-Messilah Group leader realised they were in a critical situation and the decision had to be made either to surrender to the Iraqi forces meaning certain execution, or defending oneself and homeland. The unanimous decision made by the group was one of martyrdom on the soil of the motherland. The Iraqis bombarded the house for hours with machine guns, grenades and eventually a tank, waiting for a surrender from the young Kuwaiti patriots. Eventually, the Iraqis got tired of waiting; in all, with the Kuwaitis firing back with their scarce and simple weapons, the battle lasted from 8am until 6pm. The Iraqis eventually entered the house. Three members of the Al-Messilah Group had been martyred immediately and nine were captured, later to be found elsewhere after being tortured and killed by Saddam Hussein’s army. Miraculously, though, seven injured members of the group survived the battle - the Iraqi troops failed to find them buried within the rubble of the house in the gloomy darkness with no electricity for lighting. It is reported that as a result of the bloody showdown here, the Al-Messilah Group killed hundreds of Iraqi troops, thus suffering a defeat themselves and leaving only shame and disgrace behind. Insofar as the 31 members of the Al-Messilah Group were concerned, the other twelve members who could not take part in the battle were either being held as prisoners, or unable to get to their headquartered house before the battle had started.
In the aftermath of the liberation, the Kuwaiti government turned the house into a national museum, the Al-Qurain Martyrs Museum. The house still stands in its post-attack state, fully supported by beams, and stands as a memorial and testimony to the steadfastness of the Kuwaitis and their rejection of any foreign occupant on their homeland. Amongst the bullet holes and signs of destruction, markers show where the Kuwaitis fought and hid during the siege. An exhibition displays the weapons used in the battle, amongst other items, including photographs. Outside are various vehicles used in the siege. Photography was only permitted inside the museum with a phone – conventional cameras are not permitted. An extensive thumbnail gallery from the visit here (with pictures mainly taken on a phone) is below click on an image to enlarge):

KOC Ahmad Al-Jaber Oil & Gas Exhibition

South further still and, traffic permitting, roughly half an hour’s drive south from the centre of Kuwait City (or approximately 37km/23 miles by road via Route 40) is the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) Ahmad Al-Jaber Oil & Gas Exhibition.

This (newer) exhibition facility cost in the region of KD18 million (US$59 million) to build and offers free 1½-hour engaging tours which commence every 30 minutes. These tours aim to answer any questions that the public may have about oil and gas and the important functions they play in people’s lives. Various sections within the exhibition tell the story of Kuwait’s biggest business, by explaining the history of oil both in the State of Kuwait and throughout the world. Nine galleries cover the themes of oil geology and its origins, exploration, extraction, refining, exportation and how oil is used. A lift takes visitors up to a 360° panoramic viewing area, where it is possible to see the surrounding oil fields, whilst a 15-minute film, complete with pyrotechnics and surround sound, looks at the devastating environmental consequences of burning oil and the international team of firefighters who were brought in to tackle the burning wells ignited by Saddam Hussein’s troops whilst retreating from the 1990-91 occupation. With interactive displays, models, and an interior designed to mimic the ambience of the industry’s real-life facilities, there is something here to engage and educate people of all ages. Photographs from a visit to the KOC Ahmad Al-Jaber Oil & Gas Exhibition are shown in the extensive thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

 

Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway

As mentioned earlier on this webpage, recent developments in Kuwait include “Vision 2035”, a bold plan to transform the country by developing and diversifying its economy to face long-term challenges by reducing its reliance on oil and gas. One of the constructions which began in 2013, as part of this plan, is the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway, a massive estimated US$3.6 billion mega bridge project. This is the largest transport infrastructure project in Kuwait and is among the largest of its kind in the world.

 

Named after the 13th Emir of Kuwait to commemorate his contribution to the development of Kuwait, the causeway was planned to span Kuwait Bay in two directions, comprising two parts, the 36.1km (22½-mile) Main Link (or Subiyah Link) and the 12.4km (7¾-mile) Doha link (connecting with the Doha Peninsula west of Kuwait City and not to be confused with Doha in Qatar).

A drive was taken over the impressively gigantic completed Main Link which runs in a northeasterly direction and connects Kuwait City with, at the time of the visit, basically an uninhabited area. There is little or nothing to compare it with in this respect, as things stand. However, this construction, the fourth longest bridge in the world, was built for a very specific reason: namely to connect Kuwait City to a new planned free trade zone megacity, known as Madinat al-Hareer, translating to Silk City in English (and also known as Subiyah New Town Development). Thus, the new bridge across Kuwait Bay has significantly reduced the travel distance between Kuwait City and the planned Silk City. Approximately 80% of the bridge runs over water and includes a couple of manmade islands, presumably destined for petrol stations and restaurant areas, and a main signature cable stayed bridge section. This section has a tastefully designed arch pylon which supports the road at a higher level above water, in order to allow shipping to pass through the bay’s vital navigation route. One important aspect of the bridge’s construction was its impact on the natural environment and from the outset of construction, there was a strong effort to minimise any interference or damage to the flora and fauna in and around Kuwait Bay.
Silk City itself is planned to be constructed at an estimated cost of 100-billion USD. As well as being a free zone and port, plans include an airport, an Olympic stadium, a tower taller than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, and housing for up to 700,000 residents. The plans for Silk City have, however, come up against some opposition, with some members of parliament fearing its laws will allow it to function as a “state within a state”. Unsurprisingly, in order to fulfill the goals of this most ambitious of projects, Kuwait will partner with China and how things turn out remain to be seen.
After crossing the Main Link bridge, although by now it was dark, a drive was then taken from the site of the planned Silk City eastwards along the northern side of the bay in the direction of Subiyah Thermal Power Plant. In terms of sightseeing, there really is nothing here in the way of things to see or do, although the purpose was out of curiosity, to visit a particular roadblock, beyond which lies the “Bridge to Nowhere”. This bizarrely constructed bridge is strategic, rather than functional, and although spanning a waterway over to the flat, barren and uninhabited Bubiyan Island, literally leads to nowhere. It was constructed simply to reinforce Kuwait’s claim to the island in the face of claims to it made by not only neighbouring Iraq, but also Iran, which lies not far beyond it. The Iraqis blew up the middle section of the bridge in 1991. However, after the occupation of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s army, it wasn’t long before the Kuwaiti’s rebuilt it. Another road crossing over the island comprising two separate bridges running now lies further north (as seen on Google Maps) and their function remains unclear; perhaps they are used for military purposes. Photographs taken from the trip taken over the main Link of the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway are shown in the thumbnail gallery below. Note that some are lower quality due to low light levels and sometimes taken from a moving vehicle as it is not possible to stop on the main bridge (click on an image to enlarge): 

 

Highway of Death

Finally, as well as taking a drive over the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway, another drive from Kuwait City was taken early one morning along Highway-80 as far north as was permissible close to the Iraq border. This drive was taken out of pure curiosity and also to get a feel for the country’s northern terrain outside of the busy urban areas.

The road, which then continues on to the city of Basra in Iraq, was used by Iraqi armored divisions for the 1990 invasion and subsequent withdrawal of Kuwait. It was repaired after the Gulf War and subsequently used by Coalition forces in the initial stages of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which would lead to the downfall of Saddam Hussein and his regime. The name “Highway of Death” refers to the number of retreating Iraqi troops killed along this route, as described further up the page Here. Some more photos from this drive are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

Other Sights

There are plenty of other sights in Kuwait which could have been visited had there been more time. Some of them were seen from the outside, others would have required stops elsewhere. Below is a final thumbnail gallery of photos taken during the visit aside from the places featured thus far (again, click on an image to enlarge):

The text which follows mentions some of the other places of interest in Kuwait not discussed above, some of which are seen in photographs in the thumbnail gallery above, and some which are not.
Kuwait’s wealth as an oil producer has brought about many fine examples of modern architecture and as well as the Kuwait Towers, buildings worth looking out for include the National Assembly Building (photos 113-118, above), the Arab Fund Building, Fatima Mosque, and the Shaikh Nasser Al Sabah Mosque, not to mention the many modern skyscrapers (perhaps a good starting guide to the latter is to refer to the Kuwait City Skyscraper Diagram which may be found on the SkyscraperPage website Here.
In Kuwait City itself, other popular sights include the Tareq Rajab Museum (a highly-rated ethnographic museum), the Scientific Center (which includes one of the largest aquariums in the Middle East), the Fish Market on Arabian Gulf Street, Marina Beach and Marina Crescent (photos 5-17, above), the Historical, Vintage and Classic Cars Museum, the Maritime Museum, Al Hashemi Marine Museum, Dickson House Cultural Centre (former home of a former British political agent and his wife), the 10km (6¼-mile) Corniche alongside Arabian Gulf Street (e.g. photo 223), as well as some historical areas to explore.
Outside the Kuwait City area itself, other places which may be of interest to the visitor in the country include trips to Failaka Island (known for its archaeology, although during the occupation, Iraqi forces established a heavily fortified base here and there are ongoing plans to develop the island now with resorts), Al Ahmadi (location of not only the aforementioned KOC Ahmad Al-Jaber Oil & Gas Exhibition, but also the older and smaller KOC Oil Display Center and on a completely different subject, the Kuwait Camel Racing Club), Mina Alzour and Al Khiran (popular beach and watersports areas along the coast towards the southern end of the country), the grand Red Fort (or red Palace) in Al Jahra (built in red clay between 1914-15 and about a 35km/22-mile drive west of the centre of Kuwait City), and Mutla Ridge (Kuwait’s only hilly desert terrain which reaches a maximum 306m/1004 feet in height and can offer chances to view the full expanse of Kuwait Bay).
Kuwait offers a large range of activities, festivals, events, accommodation, shopping, nightlife, entertainment and dining options for all tastes and so visitors should never find themselves short of something to do during their time here. On a final note, very few tourists visit here... so much, there doesn’t even appear to be a motto or slogan like many other national and regional tourist boards have, so in the rather groan-inducing words of one observer on the internet, what are you Kuwaiting for?

References and Further Reading

For further reading and information about the sights featured above (and other places in Kuwait which may be of interest to the reader), a few resources are listed below:

1. In situ literature and information notice boards
2. Alexander, F. (1998). Encyclopedia of world history. New York: Oxford University Press.
3. Gall, T. (1998). Asia and Oceania. Detroit: Gale Research.
4. Walker, J. (2019). Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula. Lonely Planet.
5. Al-Qurain Eternal Epic, 1994, Department of Antiquity & Museums / Kuwait National Museum
6. Map of Kuwait, with city maps of central Kuwait and Kuwait urban area, 1991, Geoprojects (U.K.) Ltd. (2nd Edition, used for reference only and not for navigation as contains description of country, although not up-to-date)
7. Kuwait on Wikipedia Here
8. Visit-Kuwait website Here
9. Kuwait Oil Company Ahmad Al-Jaber Oil & Gas Exhibition website Here
10. Information about the Kuwait National Development Plan (KNDP) with a vision of a new Kuwait by 2035 Here

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