In the 16th century several bedouin clans of the "Al Aniza" tribe migrated to the northern shore of the Gulf from the Najd in central Arabia. They first settled in Qatar for more than sixty years before migrating over sea to Kuwait where the community chose Sabah I to be their ruler.
The overland trade of spices and pearl diving were the main occupations until pearl farming developed in Japan during the 1930s. Growing British influence in the Gulf led to Kuwait becoming a British protectorate.
Then, oil transformed Kuwait into one of the richest countries in the Arab peninsula. Having amassed great wealth, Kuwait was the first of the Persian Gulf-Arab states to declare independence in 1961. Iraq challenged this declaration, claiming that Kuwait was part of its territory and threatened invasion but it was deterred by the British who flew in troops.
After being allied with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War until its end in 1988 Kuwait was invaded and annexed by Iraq on the pretext of a dispute over oil production from an oil field straddling the border.The monarchy was deposed after annexation, and a new Kuwaiti governor was installed by Saddam Hussein.
Authorized by the UN Security Council, an American-led coalition of 34 nations expelled the Iraqi forces on February 26, 1991 after 6 weeks of fierce fighting. Kuwait now remains under the governance of the Emir, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jabir Al-Sabah (since 29 January 2006) as an independent state and a strategic ally of the United States
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I arrived in Kuwait from Qatar in the evening and took the shuttle to the central bus station. It was dark when I got there and I did not have guide book of Kuwait City so I asked the bus driver if he knew of a cheap hotel in the neighbourhood. He was not familiar with the area but he went out of his way to ask several other bus drivers until he found one who suggested the Al-Bahrain Hotel in the nearby souq. They even called a taxi and explained how to get there to the driver in Arabic. For me this was one more example of Arab hospitality. Would Montreal bus and taxi drivers have shown such kindness to an Arab backpacker late at night? Perhaps, but I doubt it.
Kuwait is expensive. The Al-Bahrain was friendly and it was probably the cheapest holel in town but it nonetheless cost 36 $US a night for a plain room with shared bathroom.
The following day I visited the souq and walked all the way to the Salhiya Commercial Center in west Kuwait and purchased a wide elastic support to limit the movement of my painful broken ribs.
Here is the Al-Safat Square in the center of Kuwait City. The city souq and my hotel are not far to the left and the central bus station is nearby to the right.
The 372 metre Liberation Tower rises just south of Al-Safat Square , next to the central bus station.
Two most important institutions are found at the intersection of Mubarak Al-Kabir and Abdullah Al-Ahmad streets: the Grand Mosque and the Stock Exchange. The Kuwait National Bank is just behind the Stock Exchange and the Commercial Bank of Kuwait is hidden behind the palm tree on the third corner.I stopped here to rest before walking up Mubarak street by the minaret to the Seif Palace on Al-Corniche (the waterfront on the Arab Gulf).
Conveniently placed public benches encourage Kuwaiti investors and tired backpackers to loaf in front of the Stock Exchange.
The opulent Seif Palace is the official seat of the Emir's court. It is not open to the public and photography is prohibited.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, adjoining to the east, is also "protected" by an interdiction to take pictures. I was tempted but there were too many soldiers around to risk it.
I am amazed how naïve the gendarmes, police and military can be to prohibit taking pictures of public buildings now that anyone can download high definition pictures of any place on earth from the internet.
This free Google Earth picture shows the Seif Palace on the left and the well guarded Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the right. Much higher resolution pictures can also be purchased for very litte money online.
This modest house a little further east along Al-Corniche is of prime historical interest. This was the home and office of the British Resident while Kuwait was a British Protectorate. Kuwait became independent in 1961 but the last British Political Agent, Harold Dixon, lived here until the Iraqi invasion in August 1990.
Just across the road from the Dixon House is the fishermen's port next to the fish market you can see in the distance.
Kuwait's fish market is huge, elegantly decorated and impeccably clean. It is so clean and aseptic that it does not even smell fishy!
This luxury shopping center just after the fish market is called the Sharq Souq. The term "souq" that used to bring to my mind images of narrow alleys crowded with merchants and buyers fiercely haggling for a few pennies will now project a new modern profile for me.
Here is a peek inside the Sharq Souq. Luxury goods at astronomical prices.
There is certainly a lot of money floating around in Kuwait as you can see from the large marina in front of the Sharq Souk.
Two km further east stand Kuwait's most famous landmark, the three towers built in 1979. The largest rises to 187 metres and houses observation decks and restaurants. Each of the two large balls also holds 4.5 million gallons of water. Badly vandalised during the Iraqi occupation they were completely rehabilitated since and are definitely worth a visit.
There's a great view from the upper observation deck whose windows were unfortunately quite dirty.
I could not read the sign but the Tehran Gate monument on this restaurant marquee across the Al-Bahrain Hotel helped me guess it was Iranian. I love Iranian cuisine and enjoyed an exquisitely spiced kefta mutton kebab served with traditional golden crust basmati rice. Unfortunately they had neither wine nor beer so I had mint flavoured salty lassi which is also a treat.
The next day I flew to Cairo on my way back to Montreal via Lisbon and Amsterdam.