Kuwait’s capital is one of remarkable tenacity and life. Unfortunately, it has taken more than the proud endurance of its ancient culture alone to prove this; this is a city that will remain ever mindful of its war-torn past, thanks to the invasion of Iraqi martial forces in 1990 and the following acts of aggression. Yet, despite previous hardship, Kuwait City continues to grow: outwards, constantly expanding its industries in fossil fuel and the hotel business, and upwards, as it vies to breach architectural records with the completion of the 3284 foot Burj Mubarak al Kabir tower, a landmark soon to be accessible to the city via the Jaber Causeway.
With an urbanisation rate currently sitting at 2.1% per annum, Kuwait City has managed to amass 83% of the country’s total population within its bounds. Around 2.9 million citizens, including a substantial portion of immigrants, occupy the capital. With prospective residents arriving in droves by the month, it does not come as a surprise that the city is looking to drive the number of non-nationals down. However, the State Minister for Planning and Development, Hind Al-Sabeeh, recently voiced his intent to raise a further 45,000 homes, as well as organising brand new transport lines and large fuel projects, suggesting the city is more open to newcomers than we’ve been led to believe. In fact, Al-Sabeeh anticipates that the $116 billion developmental plan will attract enough overseas interest to fashion Kuwait City into a centre of finance and regional trade within the next twenty years. The capital’s no-nonsense approach to its ambitions is a risky one, considering the current dip in oil prices, (a source from which Kuwait generates a huge proportion of its revenue) but this move could very well be a defining step towards a more prosperous and directed future for the city.
In its crowning position atop one of the Persian Gulf’s more northerly crests, Kuwait’s capital enjoys a polished Mediterranean horizon to complement its idyllic seat. The Gulf is not only an aesthetic benefit, but serves as a major player in the city’s trade function. The Port of Shuwaikh has a twenty-one-berth capacity and in like tune with the rest of Kuwait City, looks forward to expansion.
Al-Sabeeh anticipates that the $116 billion developmental plan will attract enough overseas interest to fashion Kuwait City into a centre of finance and regional trade within the next twenty years
Though the desire for advancement is a constant in this Arab metropolis, the population holds its culture in equal, if not deeper regard. The Islamic religion is manifest in the city’s numerous houses of worship, the largest of all being the Grand Mosque, the main prayer halls of which are (combined) vast enough to facilitate 10, 950 visitors. Tourism is welcome on the terms that the mosque’s etiquette is observed, and in return guided excursions are offered throughout the day, making available to travellers the breathtaking and ethereal structures of the internal sanctuary.
The Kuwaiti culture reveals itself similarly in various other architectural forms across the city. The freestanding Kuwait Towers are famed among locals and tourists alike for their Arabic styling, which, though of Swedish design, embodies a cultural and economic pride. Such spirit is also maintained in the great height of the Liberation Tower, a feat of architecture celebrated for its post-invasion completion, marking the bravery and fortitude of the city in the face of the Iraqi occupation and the capital’s ultimate return to normality. For those interested in traditional cultural arts, a short walk northwest towards the bay will lead you to Sadu House. This modest establishment was first built in the city’s youth and has since been restored. Today, it demonstrates and sells Bedouin crafts: hand-woven rugs, bags and furnishing materials. These beautiful pieces make ideal mementos, and all income goes directly to the local artisans so that they can continue their work, supported for years to come.
Kuwaiti cuisine is another of the capital’s distinctive features. It originally consisted of a balance of animal meat and by-products, fruit and seafood – the few resources available in a largely desert environment. However, historical international trade played a significant role in widening the typical diet, introducing a variety of spices, wheat, rice and vegetation. Specialties to try are qouzi, a lamb platter served with rice and roasted vegetables, and the national dish, machboos, predominantly rice, with tender meat (chicken, lamb or fish), pan-fried vegetables and nuts. It is a heavily spiced delicacy, commonly cooked with paprika, cumin, coriander and ginger, as well as several other seasonings. Despite the abundance of meat dishes, also hugely popular in the local diet are salads, such as tabbouleh, vegetable appetisers and breads, all deliciously prepared and hugely satisfying. Alcohol is not served, but minted lemon juice and Arabic coffee make refreshing accompaniments to any meal.
Kuwait City is a picture of rich economical, industrial and cultural vitality set in a frame contrarily comprised of the Arabian Desert’s arid expanse and the brilliant waters of the Persian Gulf. For a city ever mindful of its striking origins in its journey towards a highly successful future, make this capital your next destination.
Images courtesy of ‘kaetidh’ and Cajetan Barretto via Flickr