Souq Waqif, a labyrinthine market near the city’s waterfront, looks deceptively old. Built on an ancient market site, Souq Waqif continues to be the social heart of Doha in Qatar. Centuries ago, Bedouin would bring their sheep, goats and wool here to trade for essentials, and the entire market area has been cleverly redeveloped to look the part of a 19th-century souq, with mud-rendered shops and exposed timber beams, plus some authentic and beautifully restored original Qatari buildings.
Despite the ongoing gentrification of the area, the chief business of the souq continues unabated, and it remains one of the most traditional marketplaces in the region. This is the place to look for national Qatari dress, including the beautifully embroidered bukhnoq (girl’s head covering), spices, perfumes and oud (incense made from agarwood).
Until land was reclaimed along Doha’s waterfront in the 1970s, the waters lapped at the entrance to Souq Waqif, where traders were just as likely to arrive by boat as by camel. The first semi-permanent shops here were built around 250 years ago. Before that, vendors stood and sold their wares from makeshift stalls, as the market often flooded, and it is from this tradition that the souq’s name derives: waqif means ‘standing’ in Arabic.
Mounted Heritage Police Officers in traditional 1940s Qatari uniform trot up and down the streets, often stopping their horses from time to time for photos.
Women with mobile food stalls start cooking in a nearby square in the afternoon for evening snacks and meals.
Not just a thriving marketplace, Souq Waqif is also home to a wide range of traditional-style restaurants and casual cafés which offer a diverse variety of local and regional flavors. There are also shisha lounges and charming antique stores, as well as art galleries.
I was walking through the alleys of Souq Waqif casually in the afternoon. Suddenly I noticed a tall, golden structure in the midst of a road full of eateries. I went closer to find it’s the thumb. Yes, it’s The Thumb. The Qatar Museums has installed a new bronze with gold patina art piece by acclaimed French artist César Baldaccini at the heart of Souq Waqif to mark the biggest sporting success in Qatar’s history in February 2019.
According to the website of Qatar Museums, Le Pouce, in the shape of a giant thumb as it translates directly to English as ‘The Thumb’, is one of its creator’s best-known pieces and a popular example of his tendency to create larger than life experiences.
César Baldaccini (1921-1998) was born of Italian parents in Marseilles, France. He was an important figure in the French 1960s art movement Noveau Réalisme, emphasizing the use of everyday objects over traditional art materials.
The original cast of the artist’s own thumb was first produced for an exhibition on the theme of hands titled ‘Le Main’ in 1965, in Paris. The artist then made a series of increasingly larger versions of the thumb, scaling-up the smaller model using traditional techniques. The motif of the thumb has since become the most well-known of the artist’s subjects.