Saturday, December 5, 2009

Water Reflections

For the third year since I have lived in the Middle East, I have spent time in December in the UK with close friends. This time, I spent time reflecting on the next part of life as this three year contract winds down. Coincidently, many of our rambles took us to gardens or homes with lovely waterways whose images reflected the December skies and colors. I illustrate a few below and provide a link in the title of this blog to more; do check them out. The first image below is from Wakehurst, first visited in 2007, the second two from Morden Hall Park, the site of an early snuff mill.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Turkey - Dalyan River

On the 10th day of my trip to Turkey in September, we disembarked from our gulet and drove to Dalyan, an environmentally protected area where we took a small skiff through an amazing maze of channels south toward the Mediterranean. Along the route we saw 4th c. a.d. Lycian rock cut tombs and wonderful natural life. Wikepedia explains the area:
Dalyan is a town in Muğla Province located between the well-known districts of Marmaris and Fethiye on the south-west coast of Turkey. The town is an independent municipality, within the administrative district of Ortaca.

Dalyan achieved international fame in 1986 when developers wanted to build a luxury hotel on the nearby İztuzu Beach, a breeding ground for the endangered loggerhead sea turtle species. The incident created major international storm when David Bellamy championed the cause of the conservationists. The development project was stopped and the beach is now a protected area.

Life in Dalyan revolves around the Dalyan Çayı River which flows past the town. The boats that ply up and down the river, navigating the maze of reeds, are the preferred means of transport to all the local sites.

Dalyan means "fishing weir" in Turkish. Bass, Mullet and Sea Bream swim upstream from the sea to Köyceğiz Lake where another large town of the region, Köyceğiz, is located. The fish spawn there, and when returning to the sea they are caught in the "dalyans".

In addition to its attraction as a tourist destination, the region around Dalyan is a highly fertile and productive agricultural zone. Cotton is grown intensively as well as many varieties of fruits and vegetables which are all on display in the market on Saturdays, the day when villagers come from miles around to sell their products.

Above the river's sheer cliffs are the weathered façades of Lycian tombs cut from rock, circa 400 AC. The ruins of the ancient trading city of Kaunos are a short boat trip across the river.

The south of Dalyan on the Mediterranean coast, lies İztuzu Beach, near the village of the same name is a popular area for sunbathing and swimming. There are regular boat and minibus (dolmuş) services to the beach. Visitors should be aware of the wooden stakes in the beach to mark nesting sites. The road route is particularly scenic, offering views of Sülüngür Lake. Iztuzu, Dalyan's turtle beach, was voted the best beach in the world in 1995.

The beach is well known for the Caretta Caretta (Loggerhead Sea Turtles) which have existed for 95 million years. International animal protection organizations monitor and protect the turtles' nesting grounds in Turkey.[1] The beach is closed during the period of time that the Turtles lay their eggs. On the other side of the beach, lesser known and lesser protected turtles which are illegally fed and coaxed into the river, which has a small salt content (dalyan), and therefore these turtles have to adapt. Fortunately few turtle deaths have ever occurred.

The slideshow here allows you to follow our route.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Qatar Marshes

Despite the fact that Qatar is a very sandy, beige peninsula, there are a handful of coastal marshes that are particularly verdent in the spring. I went to one south of Doha recently that consists mainaly of mangroves and arthrocnemum shrubs. Apparently in spring there are yellow desert hyacinth and sea lavender blossoms. According to a very brief article in the Peninsula on July 18 of this year, for bird lovers flocks of flamingos feed on crustacaens, and fish eagles, spoon bills, ibis, kestrrels, herons, sand grouse, bulbuls and hoopoes abound. But, as the article warns, you must be there early and be very patient.

A slide show of marsh images can be found here.

Just inland from the marsh was a large flock of camels who were calmly grazing and resting until a caravan of landcruisers swept through, throwing up dust and and causing the camels to run, following the route of the caravan. Perhaps they anticipated food at the end but more likely were simply disturbed by the activity. Images of this show can be found here.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tribeca Film Festival Opens

I went to the Doha Tribeca Film Festival opening on the 29th and saw Amelia on a 24m by 10m HD screen (it took 150 people to assemble) outside in the lovely evening air. As we watched, planes landing and taking at the close-by airport to our right provided a fascinating juxtaposition to the story. Fireworks exploding after the film offered a dramatic backdrop to the museum. Below is a slide show of a handful of photos and captions.


From the Gulf Times, October 30.
Film Festival Takes Off
Around 5,000 film lovers flocked to the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) grounds last night, to take part in the opening night of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF), where they watched the Middle East premiere of Mira Nair’s biopic, Amelia.
People of all ages, nationalities and cultures sat together in the deckchairs in front of the specially constructed 24x10m screen, which took 150 people to build. It is the largest temporary structure ever to be built in Qatar, according to organisers.
Earlier, the opening day of the festival included a lunch which was attended by organisers and many of the luminaries attending and participating in the festival, such as Martin Scorcese, Mira Nair and Sir Ben Kingsley among others.
more ...

DTFF step in the right direction, says actors
Luminaries from the world of Arab and international cinema have hailed the launch of the inaugural Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF) as a major step for film in the region, and expressed their hope that the event will signal a year-round effort to develop film in the Middle East.
As Doha residents awaited the screening of Amelia to mark the opening night of the DTFF yesterday, stars from the worlds of film, fashion, music and the arts made their way down a unique red carpet at the entrance of the Museum of Islamic Art.
Sir Ben Kingsley proved to be one of the most popular stars to walk down the carpet, with members of the public screaming out to the renowned actor.
Kingsley, who is also in Doha to receive a humanitarian award tonight, graciously answered all the questions screamed at him and argued that a lot of good can be achieved through film. He gave the examples of Gandhi and Schindler’s List as two films which have helped educate generations and raise awareness of the suffering of people around the world. “Now most schoolchildren in the world have watched these films and have learnt about what happened.”
more ...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Doha Tribeca Film Festival

(My close friend's son is joining me this week and we'll be at the fire-work studded opening to see Amelia on large creens at the Museum of Islamic Art.)

from today's New York Times

Mixing Oil and Hollywood: Tribeca Festival Expands to the Persian Gulf
Published: October 23, 2009
On a recent trip to the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, Geoff Gilmore, chief creative officer for Tribeca Enterprises, visited a local luminary to talk up the inaugural Doha Tribeca Film Festival. “This is going to be one of those New York programs, isn’t it?” Mr. Gilmore remembers the man asking skeptically.

Well, yes and no. There is no denying the company’s New York origins. But when the festival opens next week in Doha, Qatar’s capital, with Robert De Niro, Tribeca’s co-founder, expected to be among those present, its slate of 31 movies will reflect months of effort to strike just the right multicultural tone and mix of Arab and Western films.

“People may have thought this was going to be a one-way exchange, Tribeca bringing films to the Gulf, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Mr. Gilmore, who joined Tribeca this year after 19 years at the Sundance Institute and festival. “We look at this as an equal relationship.”

The Doha Tribeca Film Festival is the latest example of a cinematic phenomenon in the Persian Gulf region. Dubai started things off in 2004 and will be holding its sixth festival in December. Abu Dhabi has two festivals. Even Saudi Arabia, where many Islamic clerics regard film and music as the Devil’s handiwork, has modest festivals in Khobar on the Gulf coast and across the peninsula in Jeddah.

more ...

from today's Peninsula

Arab filmmakers face apathy and lack of understanding
By Raja Abdulrahim

When Zahra, 40, began making indie films after graduating from film school at the University of California, Los Angeles, he was confident he would find support, both financial and consumer, among the Middle Eastern and Muslim communities of the United States. These, after all, were two intersecting communities that often complained of their portrayal in Hollywood movies as mostly fanatical terrorists.

But that support has yet to fully materialize. For many in these communities, Zahra said, a project must proselytize or match their personal views to warrant investment or even the purchase of a movie ticket or DVD.

At this weekend’s Arab Film Festival in Los Angeles, Zahra Pictures will co-present “Help,” a Lebanese film portraying a prostitute and a gay character. Each movie in the festival is being presented in concert with local Arab groups. But most shied away from being connected with “Help” because of the controversial story.

Michel Shehadeh, director of the festival, which also plays in other California cities and features films from across the Middle East, Europe and the United States, said the challenges faced by Zahra and “Help” are common.

“In terms of art, if they don’t think of it as bad, they think of it as wasting their time,” he said. “So they don’t encourage their kids to go into it because they don’t think of it as a moneymaker.”

Support has been piecemeal, at best, for a variety of reasons that Zahra says includes conservative values suspicious of what might be portrayed and a lack of appreciation for the role of film and theater in molding public perception.

full article

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gulf Energy Sources: Different Approaches Today

The news media today in the U.S. and in Qatar presents two interesting stories on gas and oil reserves in the mid-East and the approaches different countries are taking. The demands of Saudi Arabia to be compensated when oil demand goes down contrasts sharply with Qatar’s heavy investment of its industries’ proceeds in developing new products and sources of energy.
On one hand, as reported by the New York Times, Saudi Arabia,
is trying to enlist other oil-producing countries to support a provocative idea: if wealthy countries reduce their oil consumption to combat global warming, they should pay compensation to oil producers.
The oil-rich kingdom has pushed this position for years in earlier climate-treaty negotiations. While it has not succeeded, its efforts have sometimes delayed or disrupted discussions. The kingdom is once again gearing up to take a hard line on the issue at international negotiations scheduled for Copenhagen in December.
The chief Saudi negotiator, Mohammad al-Sabban, described the position as a “make or break” provision for the Saudis, as nations stake out their stance before the global climate summit scheduled for the end of the year.
“Assisting us as oil-exporting countries in achieving economic diversification is very crucial for us through foreign direct investments, technology transfer, insurance and funding,” Mr. Sabban said in an e-mail message. …
Environmental advocates denounced the idea, saying the Saudi stance hampered progress to assist poor nations that are already suffering from the effect of climate change, and that genuinely need financial assistance.
“It is like the tobacco industry asking for compensation for lost revenues as a part of a settlement to address the health risks of smoking,” said Jake Schmidt, the international climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The worst of this racket is that they have held up progress on supporting adaptation funding for the most vulnerable for years because of this demand.

The Qatar local papers had a number of articles that show a different approach, one made possible by the large natural gas reserves controlled by Qatar as well as their heavy investment in technology (the Qatar Science and Technology Park, for one instance), here on the on the development and first use of a new jet fuel.
The national carrier made history on Monday night when its London Gatwick – Doha service became the first commercial flight to be powered by a blend of GTL kerosene and conventional crude oil-based kerosene.
“GTL Jet Fuel, a colourless liquid, contains no sulphur component at all and hence will improve air quality near airports, which are located near cities,” Brown told Gulf Times. GTL (gas to liquids) kerosene will be produced in commercial quantities by the Pearl GTL project, currently under construction by Qatar Petroleum and Shell. The project is expected to produce around 1mn tonnes of GTL kerosene yearly from 2012, enough to power a typical commercial airliner for half a billion kilometres (equivalent to carrying 250 passengers around the world 4,000 times) when used in a 50% blend to make GTL Jet Fuel.“
Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) yesterday signed two agreements with its consortium partners to further quantify the benefits of Gas to Liquids (GTL) Jet Fuel, the blend of GTL kerosene and oil-derived kerosene. Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ), The University of Sheffield, Shell, Rolls-Royce and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) are the consortium partners. “The initial research programme is for three years,” QSTP managing director Dr Eulian Roberts told Gulf Times on the sidelines of the signing ceremony.
Qatar Airways will start using GTL Jet Fuel widely from 2012, following the start-up of Pearl Gas-to-Liquids plant at Ras Laffan, airline CEO Akbar al-Baker has said. … GTL kerosene is the first aviation fuel component derived from natural gas and has obtained the required international approval and meets all the standard jet fuel specifications. It offers airlines access to an alternative feedstock to oil-based conventional fuels. This diversity of supply for the industry-gas-based rather than oil-based, will add a high quality drop-in blend component to the global jet fuel pool for many decades. … Asked whether fares would go up once GTL Jet Fuel was used to power Qatar Airways aircraft, al-Baker said: “It is true the blend is costlier than the conventional fuel. But we have no immediate plans to revise our fares on account of this.” He said the inadequate supply of GTL Jet Fuel in global markets was not a matter of concern at all. This is because the engines could fly on conventional fuel even as it is equipped to run on GTL Jet Fuel.”

See the following for complete articles from the Gulf Times:
1, 2, 3

From an article in the NYT in December 2005 we see the forecast of this success.
In a shift drawing historical comparisons to the takeoff of Saudi Arabia's oil industry several decades ago, Qatar has moved swiftly in recent years to develop its huge offshore natural gas reserves - once dismissed as practically worthless because of the difficulty of transporting gas to distant markets - while cementing strong military and economic ties with the United States.
Driven by an ambitious, well-educated and open-minded ruling elite, these moves have allowed Qatar to leap ahead of Russia and Iran, the only countries with larger reserves of natural gas, seizing new opportunities to export the fuel to markets in North America, Southern Europe and the Far East.
Tankers laden with gas super-cooled to a liquid state already depart each day for Japan and South Korea from the northern port of Ras Laffan, not far from Al Udeid Air Base in the Qatari desert, the U.S. military's main air operations center in the Arabian Peninsula. Soon the ships will start delivering their cargoes to ports in Texas and Louisiana in the most ambitious project to date to bring natural gas from the Middle East to American consumers.
Andrew Brown, Royal Dutch Shell's country manager in Qatar, said that greater natural gas and oil production should result in overall daily energy production equivalent to about five million barrels of oil a day by 2012, nearly half the daily oil output of Saudi Arabia.
"Over the next five years," Brown said, "Qatar is going to see an energy boom as significant as any other in the past."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Turkey: Waltzing Matilda

… the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
the eternal note of sadness in.

It’s not surprising that standing on the Aegean shore of Gallipoli I should think of Dover Beach. After all, Arnold went on to write that

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery …

And the graveyards of Gallipoli stand as monuments to some of the bitterest fighting the world has seen. Hundreds of thousands dead in an ill-conceived attack by the Australian New Zealand Allied Command (Anzac) at the order the British. The image below, is a photo of Anzac, the landing 1915 by George Lambert (1873-1930), 1920–22 (oil-on-canvas, 190.5 cm by 350.5 cm) and is in the public domain. The painting depicts the Australian soldiers of the covering force (3rd Infantry Brigade) climbing the seaward slope of Plugge's Plateau which overlooks the northern end of the cove. The view is to the north, towards the main range. The yellow pinnacle is "The Sphinx" and beyond is Walker's Ridge which leads to Russell's Top. The white bag that each soldier is carrying contains two days of rations which were issued specially for the landing.

The folksong,“And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” poignantly depicts the war seen in the eyes of an old man who lost his legs in the fighting. Written in the 1970s it has been thought by some to be directed as much at the Vietnam War as war in general. As written in Wikipedia, the song describes the soldier who for "ten weary weeks" kept himself alive as "around me the corpses piled higher," recalling "that terrible day" ... "in the hell that they called Suvla Bay we were butchered like lambs at the slaughter" ... "in that mad world of blood, death and fire" … As the old man sits on his porch, watching the veterans march past every ANZAC Day, he muses: "The young people ask what are they marching for, and I ask m'self the same question" … "but as year follows year/ more old men disappear/ someday no one will march there at all."

Ataturk, Father of the Turks, in 1934 wrote a tribute to the ANZACs killed at Gallipoli:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.

The inscription appears on the Kemal Atatürk Memorial, ANZAC Parade, Canberra as well as on this granite stone on Gallipoli where the graveyards and graves are meticulously kept. A view of one graveyard (with the yellow pinnacle or "Sphinx" seen from a slightly different angle)and a few specific graves:

The cemetery and the battles still hold strong memories for families. The marker below, found loose on the grass, shows that Mark and Fiona Davies from England brought some flowers a few weeks before I visited.

Leaving the peninsula on a boat bound to the Asian shore of Turkey, you turn back and see the hillside of Kilitbahir in which has been carved

"Stop passerby!
This soil you thus tread unawares
Is where an age sank.
Bow and listen,
This quiet mound is where the heart of a nation throbs."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Not Kansas for sure

While there are fast food restaurants and plenty of western items for purchase, every once in while it is good to remember that we are, so to speak, not in Kansas any more. An article in today's Gulf Times available through the title link in its entirety offers just such a wake-up call. The article discusses four court cases and I select from two here, italics mine.

Four men, woman jailed and fined for bar brawl
A Doha court has sentenced four men and an Arab woman to a three-month imprisonment and imposed a fine of QR6,000 for their involvement in a scuffle in the bar of a hotel and for disturbing public order under the influence of liquor.
A policewoman said that “she did not smell liquor from the female suspect” but the court ruled that such a statement was not enough to say that the woman, identified as a Tunisian, was not drunk. 
A medical test found no liquor in the local’s blood, but the court said that it was not committed to that result, adopting the testimony of a policeman who said that all the five suspects were “behaving abnormally.”

Text messages land man in jail

A Doha court sentenced in absentia an Asian man, to a month imprisonment and QR3,000 for “sending four mobile text messages containing indecent words to an Arab woman.”
 The woman’s husband filed a police case in June last year saying that his wife received the filthy text messages, in Arabic, from unknown local number.
 Investigations led to the 44-year-old Indian accused as he was the owner of the number from which the messages were sent. He said that his boss used his phone before leaving the country for good, but the court dismissed his “baseless” claim saying that it was a way to escape from punishment.
 However, the court said that it was utilising its authority to change the accusation “in order to stop the suspect from escaping punishment.”
 The court charged him with “disturbing others, through telecommunication means, by using indecent words.”

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dangerous Traffic

When I arrived in this country in 2007 the daily high commuter traffic was quite dangerous with roundabouts carrying traffic well beyond capacity and cars, trucks and buses competing to be in and through the round-about before the others. Shortly after I arrived, traffic cops were stationed at the most heavily trafficked roundabouts to stop traffic from individual directions and attempt to keep a semblance of free movement. The next step was the addition of traffic signals again at the most heavily trafficked roundabouts. Here the red signals stop, the green go and the flashing yellow, what I term, ‘proceed if you dare.’ On a green light you must make certain that that no one is cutting across you from the left, moving legally on a yellow flashing. Yet this is a much better system.

Also in 2007 some new safety signs, in both Arabic and English, began to appear at major intersections and roundabouts. As the Qatar Visitor reported at the time
New traffic signs have sprung up around Doha in the last few weeks, warning of the dire consequences of breaking the strict new traffic laws.

They illustrated some of the informative signs:

Other signs today range from the very benign (a picture of a smiling young girl, ‘Keep your family safe’) to the slightly more menacing (another smiling girl, this time with the admonition, ‘don’t lose your child’s smile by accident) to the downright menacing (a crumbled car and blood dripping from a stop sign). The latter two I illustrate here; the English version of the dripping blood sign reads 'Take Care, Follow the Traffic signs to be safe.' I no longer see the one with a chalk outline of a body on the pavement.

Traffic is far better now although there are still far too frequent acts of challenge and high speeds when in heavy traffic. Still continuing is the late night practice of drag racing along the highways out of town. A few months ago a prominent, highly talented young Qatari was killed when inadvertently caught in such a ‘race.’ He was the recently named Minister of Business and Trade. The language from the recent trial describes the race and needs no further commentary. It appeared in the July 21 edition of Qatar newspaper The Peninsula.
Racing of two cars caused minister’s death: Witness
Web posted at: 7/21/2009 3:1:3
Source ::: QNA
DOHA: A witness deposing in a trial court confirmed that the car which hit the vehicle of the business and trade minister in May causing his death, was involved in a daredevil racing on Doha-Al Wakra highway. The witness was driving and coming in from the direction of the racing cars from Al Wakra, while the minister, H E Sheikh Fahad bin Jassem Al Thani, was coming from the opposite direction in his car and heading towards Al Wakra.

The witness told the court presided over by Judge Nasser bin Mohamed Al Dosri that when the two cars sped past his, their speed was so much ‘maddeningly high’ that his vehicle shook.

While one of the cars sped past his from the right, the other one on the left took to the service road in what looked like a ‘daredevil racing. “The two four-wheelers sped past my car in split second,” he said.

And soon the car on the service road approached the main highway, it kissed the other vehicle. This caused one of the cars to collide with the divider and cross over to the other side of the road. It first hit an electric pole and later the car of the minister which was coming in from the opposite direction, said the witness.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Life in the Gulf

No comment, except for the italics which are mine.

Women upset as Saudis start work as maids
Web posted at: 8/4/2009 2:30:13
Source ::: The Peninsula

DOHA: Qatari women have reacted with disappointment at media reports saying that the first batch of 30 Saudi housemaids has begun work, entering an occupation which has been the domain of mostly Asian women in the oil-rich Gulf state.

According to newspaper reports, all the 30 Saudi women who have been roped in as domestic help, are aged between 20 and 45 years and none of them has a primary school certificate.
They earn salaries up to 1,500 riyals which is roughly equivalent to $400 per month, slightly more than what their Asian counterparts get. At least one newspaper quoted an official from a manpower agency saying that the 30 women have been selected after a series of interviews and intense training. And another 100 women have applied and are awaiting interviews, said another Saudi newspaper.

The manpower agency official said the demand in Saudi Arabia for local women to work as maids is going up sharply because of widespread fear in local communities that foreign women practice magic.

The Saudi Labor Ministry moved two years ago to allow local women to work as housemaids and they were to be officially known as ‘Saudi home arrangers’.

Reacting to the reports, Moza Al Malki, a prominent Qatari psychologist, told this newspaper yesterday: “It breaks my heart to know that Saudi women are venturing out to get involved in such a pursuit.”

“Imagine that this is happening at a time the GCC countries are witnessing immense economic prosperity and among these countries Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserves.”

In principle, it is okay if a woman has to do a job as long as it is decent work and not in violation of Islamic tenets, she said.

“But in the end it is the job of a maid… The women will be exposed to all kinds of humiliation.” Al Malki said she hoped that the trend would be restricted to Saudi Arabia and not spill over to other GCC countries. Another Qatari woman who did not want to be identified said the development should be treated as an exception and she did not expect the trend to spill over to other GCC states.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Weather in this part of the world

From The Peninsula, July 31
Dust chokes sweltering Doha
By Satish Kanady

DOHA: A strong dust storm hit Qatar yesterday, adding to the woes of the people already struggling to cope with an intense heat wave. The sandstorm drastically reduced visibility, causing difficulties to motorists during the early hours. Hospitals and clinics in Doha witnessed an increase in the number of patients reporting respiratory problems.

The storm hit the city early in the morning and settled around 9.30am before gaining strength by 11am. After a two-hour respite, another wave of the dust storm hit the country around 4pm. The bad weather forced many families to stay indoors as strong winds whipped up dust and sand, creating a dust haze in the city for long hours.

The city’s otherwise busy markets and shopping malls were virtually deserted in the morning due to the heat and dust. Motorists were forced to slow down on the city’s major thoroughfares due to the poor visibility. Many vehicles were seen plying with their headlights on. Though visibility was reportedly reduced at Doha International Airport, there was no official confirmation of flights being delayed or re-scheduled.

The thick dust haze brought work at many construction sites to a standstill for a few hours in the morning. Workers at project sites in the West Bay area were seen running for cover from the dust-laden winds.

Officials in the meteorological department said the bad weather was caused by high pressure that had developed over the northwestern part of Saudi Arabia and was moving towards the east. The dusty conditions will continue till tomorrow. Visibility is expected to be reduced to one kilometre or less at times, the weathermen said.

Driving home last evening (to the above mentioned West Bay area), three to four kilometers outside the city, there was no city to be seen. Only as the distance closed to 1-2 km did the buildings, surrounded by grey dust, begin to become visible.

I offer two pairs of views outside my living room window: in each pair, the clear one was taken on the 27th; the second taken on the 30th. As the weatherman in the Perninsula indicates, the weather continues thick and dusty today with virtually no visibility.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Science, Research and History in the News

In today's Gulf Times is an interesting article about arab science and research, Whither Arab science and research? Set in the context of what Qatar has underway with Education City, the Qatar Science and Technology Park, biomedical research at the Medical School and Sidra Hospital and Research Center, as well as the funding offered for research by the Qatar National Research Fund, it makes for interesting reading.
Why is it that a region that was once the world’s scientific powerhouse has now become its outhouse? In an article last year, I explored some of the reasons which included: “The dominant patronage culture in academia, the shortage of research funding, the almost complete absence of private research, the difficulty of registering and protecting intellectual property, as well as the rote-based education system.”
Some experts observe that Islam’s scientific heritage equips Muslims to look positively upon modern science. In fact, many Muslims believe that modern science confirms the Qur’an.
“In those countries where fundamentalism has taken hold among the youth in the universities, it is striking to observe that the fundamentalist students are in a majority in the scientific institutions,” says Farida Faouzia Charfi, a science professor at the University of Tunis. “(Islamists) want to govern society with ideas of the past and the technical means of modernity.”
But this selective interest in science is a double-edged sword because it encourages people to disregard inconvenient scientific truths if they conflict with or contradict their faith. Attitudes aside, another important factor that is often missing from the equation is the simple question of resources.
I think it’s no coincidence that the start of Europe and the West’s golden age and the Arab and Muslim world’s gradual decline occurred at about the time when Muslims ceded their grip on global trade to Europeans who also “discovered” a resource-rich “new world” in the process.

The full article is available here.

A page later in the newspaper, we read of
a special session devoted solely to the archaeology of Qatar [that] was held at the British Museum on Friday, as part of the Seminar for Arabian Studies which takes place annually, when recent research into such diverse topics as archaeology, history and ancient languages and epigraphy is presented and discussed. Archaeologists working in Qatar this year gave half-hour presentations on their findings, on sites ranging from the Iron Age graves at Umm al-Maa to the old trading and pearling town of Al Zubara.

The full article is available here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Current Events July 18-19

A round-up of some very local news, with a heavy emphasis on crime. Or, Life and Law in Qatar

Civic authorities shut restaurant for serving stale food
DOHA: Municipal authorities cracked the whip on a famous foreign restaurant in the city and pulled its shutters down for a month after they found its staff was serving stale food items for profiteering.

Civic inspectors discovered during a raid that the items served to customers at this eatery were not fit for human consumption as stocks stored for cooking were found to have far jumped their expiry dates.

The items were seized and the manager of the eatery was referred for legal action. A notice was served and the municipality concerned ordered its closure for a month and imposed a fine as well. more ... [although no mention of the restaurant]

40 lashes for man convicted of drinking in public
The Gulf Times July 19
An Arab engineer, who has been convicted of drunkenness in a public place, has been sentenced to 40 lashes by a Doha court. The judge dismissed his claim that he could not differentiate between water and wine (writes Nour Abuzant).
The Moroccan Muslim told the court that he got intoxicated after he went for dinner with his French colleagues and they offered him a drink that he thought was water.
He was arrested when the car, carrying him and his French colleagues, m et with an accident. The traffic police noticed that he was vomiting and there was a stench of alcohol in the atmosphere. He was taken to the Rayyan police in an unconscious state. … full story

Illicit affair lands couple in prison
The Gulf Times July 19
By Nour Abuzant
A Doha court has sentenced a man and a woman to one-year imprisonment and subsequent deportation following their conviction of maintaining illicit relations.
The court heard that the pair, a Palestinian man and a Filipina, used to meet in the man’s car. … more

Motorist gets two years, 40 lashes for death crash
The Gulf Times July 19
By Nour Abuzant

A motorist has been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and 40 lashes for driving under the influence of liquor and causing an accident that claimed the lives of two Asians, last summer.
The traffic police report submitted to a Doha court of first instance said the accused was driving recklessly under the influence of alcohol, and because of his recklessness he hit a bicycle carrying the two Indians, killing them both on the spot. more ...

Woman who killed maid escapes death sentence after blood money deal accepted

The Peninsula/ By Abdullah Abdulrahman
DOHA: An expatriate woman who had to face the firing squad for stabbing her housemaid to death had a lucky escape as the family of the deceased has agreed to accept blood money and pardon her.

She will now be sentenced to 15 years in jail. The convict is pregnant and is in her early thirties. It so happened that the Industrial Area police got a call on the day of the incident saying that a maid employed by an expatriate household had committed suicide. more ...

Air-conditioned bus shelter set for trials
DOHA: Mowasalat, in collaboration with a private media company, is establishing the first air-conditioned bus shelter in the country in Lusail. The facility will function on a trial basis, a senior Mowasalat official said.

The state-owned company is awaiting approval from higher authorities for establishing more such facilities across the country, Ahmed Al Ansari, Mowasalat’s business development director, told The Peninsula. more...

Qatar witnesses substantial rise in use of ozone depleting substances
The Peninsula. / BY SATISH KANADY
DOHA: Qatar has witnessed a quantum jump in the consumption of Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) over the last four years. The country’s total consumption of ODS has touched a high 60380.05 metric tonnes during the year 2008 against 294.37 tones in 2004, revealed the annual environment abstract report released by Qatar Statistical Authority (QSA). more...

Need for more desalination plants: report

July 19 Gulf Times:
In view of Qatar’s rapid economic development and urban expansion besides a steady increase in population, more than half the quantum of water required for the country will have to be from desalination plants, says an investigative report published in a local Arabic daily.
There has been a three-fold increase in the output of desalinated water since 1995. The total volume produced in 2008 was to the tune of 321 million cubic metres. But it is not adequate to cover the individual level of consumption.
There is an imperative need to educate the public on the need to economise and be self disciplined in the use of water. 
Such a restraint from the public will go a long way in reducing the fear of water scarcity in the future. 
Qatar has two main under ground water tables: one in the Shemal (north) and the other in the south. However, due to the paucity in rainfall these water tables do not get replenished.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Extreme Construction: Mosque of Domes

From Today's Gulf Times we read that
The State Mosque, an ambitious project launched by Qatar in Al Khuwair, will be one of the largest in the world upon completion, Gulf Times has learnt.
The “Mosque of Domes”, as it is commonly called because of the 99 domes it contains, is large enough to accommodate up to 12,000 worshippers in the main prayer hall, in addition to 8,000 more in the open courtyard, a source associated with the project told Gulf Times.
“It is set to be one of the biggest (mosques) in the world; fifth biggest, I believe,” the source said.
The closely-guarded project is being built under the supervision of the Private Engineering Office at the Emiri Diwan, the source said, adding that the mosque would have traditional Qatari features incorporated into its design, “as opposed to a modern look”.
“It is strictly based on local roots and heritage. There was a Qebab mosque (Mosque of Domes) in Qatar. This project is essentially a larger version of that ancient structure,” the source said.
The State Mosque has 28 large domes, in addition to 71 smaller ones surrounding the open courtyard, totalling 99 in all. Although those involved in the project said they were not given the reason for those many domes, an Islamic scholar yesterday said the relationship could be to the 99 names of Allah.
“The sole minaret, which will also have an observatory overlooking the Gulf, is expected to be 65.55m tall including the crescent,” the source said.
Officials contacted by Gulf Times could not give a timeframe for the opening of the mosque.
Different people gave dates ranging from this November to one year from now.

The location is on the north coast of Qatar, slightly south west of the center tip. When the weather improves I'll visit and see if I can get close at all, since they refer to it as a closely-guarded project. The Hassan II mosque in Casablanca and featured in this slideshow, by comparison, has space for 25,000 worshippers inside and another 80,000 outside. The 210-meter minaret is the tallest in the world and is visible day and night for miles around. As the Mosque of DOmes develops I will be looking specifically to see the "traditional Qatari features incorporated into its design, 'as opposed to a modern look.'” I will also be very interested in seeing and, if possible, entering the observatory in the minaret. Imagine looking across the Persian Gulf into Iran, left toward the end of the Persian Gulf at Kuwait and Iraq, and right toward the Straits of Hormuz from this point. What a vista!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Extreme Construction

All across the city of Doha construction is intense. Around Education City, in the west of Doha where I work, heavy trucks routinely fill the roads and round-abouts, and the number of cranes is extraordinary, as the Qatar Foundation rushes to put in place the building for Northwestern, the newest U.S. institution to join us, and Sidra Hospital, our teaching hospital. Other construction there includes a convention center and planned secondary schools.

From Education City east to the Corniche older buildings are coming down and new ones going up. On all sides of my apartment building, 14 km east of Education City and just off the Corniche, is intense construction. My apartment itself faces north with many city buildings between it and the bay to the north. Chief among them is the large low City Center Mall that does not obstruct the view to more buildings and water, as is clear from the images. Between the mall and my apartment is a construction zone whose divisions suggest three separate planned buildings. Recently heavy machinery and sounds and views of very active construction in the center zone have entered our lives, at least as early as 4:30 in the morning and later than 10:00 at night. I have not tested if it ever stops. The opening image, taken last evening, was shot, of course, from within my apartment, as were the next three.

The image below shows the construction site in early March of this year when there was no obvious activity.

The third image shows the site during the day in late June and the fourth image, cut from the lower right of the June photo, offers a rendition of the building that is under construction and for which the intense foundation effort is now underway. It is called the Doha Convention Center and Tower and the picture shows a large low building and a great tower.

Wikipedia reports the following, indicating it will be the 6th tallest building in the world. The news of suspension of construction reported below may now be superseded by activity outside my windows. We shall see.
The Doha Convention Center Tower is a skyscraper under construction in Doha, Qatar. The tower is expected to be 551m (1808 ft) tall and have 112 floors. The status of construction is that the steel frame is under assembly, and, when that stage is finished, the glass cladding will be started. The estimated completion date is 2012. In 2009, the CTBUH [Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats] informed on its website, that construction on the tower has been suspended. When completed it shall be the sixth tallest building in the world. It will preceed the Abraj Al Bait Towers in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and surpass the 1 World Trade Center in New York City, New York.

Although I see nothing on the CTBUH web site recently about the tower under discussion here, I do see that its latest newsletter reports on the Kamal Tower now planned for Doha. You can see images of this planned building here.

It appears that, once in place, the tower in my frontyard, so to speak, will be strategically located so as to block the view from my apartment of my favorite building - the copper sheathed structure with the silver ball – seen in the images above across the construction zone and the other side of the City Center.

This fascinating building appears as well in the last image here, taken in March 2008 from the front of the City Center.

On March 16 of this year I posted an entry on the very large building just south of my building, my backyard so to speak. It is called The Tornado and today, the 12th of July, a regional newspaper, The Gulf Times, reports it
"has been awarded the 2009 accolade for Best Tall Building in the Middle East and Africa by the Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH). This is the first time that any building in Qatar has won such a prestigious award."
The article indicates that
"The principle criteria used by the CBTUH awards committee to form their judgment for these awards, is based on the projects displaying extraordinary contribution to the advancement of tall buildings, bringing fresh ideas and innovative processes which would not only help advance the profession of design but also, improve the ambiance and the well-being of the inhabitants of the cities where they have been constructed."
It cites specifically
"One of the highlights of the 200-m high Tornado Tower is its spectacular external lighting system created by renowned light artist Thomas Emde. The system is capable of displaying 35,000 different combinations that will further enhance the hyperboloid structure of the tower, based on desert storm concept design."
And this outside my bedroom window! The full article is available here. I add a photo of mine taken in October 2008. It shows The Tornado in proximity to my apartment building,furthest on the left. To the right, of course, is The Tornado.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

High Line & Home Leave

I was fortunate enough to return to New York shortly before the High Line, an elevated railroad now a city park,opened on June 9, 2009. The High Line was built in the early 1930s and served actively until 1980 bringing materials, including cattle, to the industrial and meat-packing area in Manhattan. The park extends from Gansevoort St to 20th at this time, with a middle section to 30th St planned to open in the fall of 2010. The northernmost section to 34th St near the Javits Convention Center is still in negotiations and its future uncertain. The 1990s saw the elevated railway covered with wild grass and trees. Some folks clambered up the sides to explore and, as plans developed to dismantle the railroad, community support for its redevelopment as a pedestrian park grew. Wikepedia illustrates how the Gansevoort end looked before renovation, with a rendering of how it will (and does now) look. As comparison, my image of the wooded section at the southern end here shows how the actual trees and plants on the southern end appear. The plantings are based on the wild plants that rooted after it was abandoned.

Much as been written about the park and its opening; I link to a few articles here. I also offer a slide show of photos I took while on home leave in New York City in June. A month of rain and grey skies kept me from seeing this park in sunlight. I look forward to that at some point as well as to seeing it at night (open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.) and in winter snow.

From the official High Line web site I repeat some of the history:

The High Line was built in the 1930s, as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement. It lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan's largest industrial district. No trains have run on the High Line since 1980. Friends of the High Line, a community-based non-profit group, formed in 1999 when the historic structure was under threat of demolition. Friends of the High Line works in partnership with the City of New York to preserve and maintain the structure as an elevated public park.

The project gained the City's support in 2002. The High Line south of 30th Street was donated to the City by CSX Transportation Inc. in 2005. The design team of landscape architects James Corner Field Operations, with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, created the High Line's public landscape with guidance from a diverse community of High Line supporters. Construction on the park began in 2006. The first section, from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, is projected to open in June 2009.

The City of New York authorizes street-level railroad tracks down Manhattan’s West Side.

1851 – 1929
So many accidents occur between freight trains and street-level traffic that 10th Avenue becomes known as Death Avenue. For safety, men on horses, called the West Side Cowboys, ride in front of trains waving red flags.

After years of public debate about the hazard, the City and State of New York and the New York Central Railroad agree on the West Side Improvement Project, which includes the High Line. The entire project is 13 miles long, eliminates 105 street-level railroad crossings, and adds 32 acres to Riverside Park. It costs over $150 million in 1930 dollars—more than $2 billion today.

The High Line opens to trains. It runs from 34th Street to St. John’s Park Terminal, at Spring Street. It is designed to go through the center of blocks, rather than over the avenue, to avoid creating the negative conditions associated with elevated subways. It connects directly to factories and warehouses, allowing trains to roll right inside buildings. Milk, meat, produce, and raw and manufactured goods come and go without causing street-level traffic.

Growth of interstate trucking leads to a drop in rail traffic, nationally and on the High Line.

The southernmost section of the High Line is demolished.

The last train runs on the High Line pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys.

For a High Line virtual tour click here.

Two things are especially worth remarking on here. The first is a temporary installation.

"The High Line also opens with a major, though temporary art installation by Spencer Finch in association with Creative Time. “The River That Flows Both Ways,” is 700 individual panels of glass — in hues of blues, purples and greys — fitted into the original High Line window panes that allowed light into the bay of the Nabisco building. Finch plays with parallels between the rail line, where trains ran north and south — and the Hudson, which is not actually a river, but an estuary, and flows “both ways” during each day.
The glass colors are based on the shades of the Hudson. Finch fastened a camera to a tugboat that traveled from the 79th Street Boat Basin up to 120th Street, down to the harbor and back to the basin. The camera took a picture a minute for 700 minutes. The 700 pieces of glass correspond to those colors, starting in the upper left, moving across the top, reading from left to right like a book, according to Meredith Johnson, a curator and producer with Creative Time.

The glass installation will stay up for one year, and when it comes down, only the glass will be removed as the original panes will remain. The architectural glass installation is on the High Line upstairs from Morimoto restaurant."

The second item to be mentioned is the wonderful spontaneous performance on the fire escape of a very near-by apartment. It is described in recent New York Times column , A Firescape Cabaret, complete with its own multimedia show. I had noted each time I visited the High Line laundry hung out on the fire escape. One friend with me suggested that this was deliberate and part of a much larger thing than laundry. She was right, as the NYT piece reveals.

Just after 9 p.m. on June 17, the third installment of the High Line Park Renegade Cabaret was held on Patty Heffley’s fourth-floor fire escape. There were colored lanterns, and a festive array of undergarments hung from the railings.

The Renegade Cabaret Ms. Heffley, 55, a former punk rock photographer, had staged a laundry “installation,” as she put it, to bolster the live performance she was hosting. Elizabeth Soychak, a jazz singer and professional organizer who gives her age as “permanently 39,” wore a 1950s moss green chiffon dress and waited while Ms. Heffley, in black, introduced her.

“This is in response to 31 years of obscurity,” Ms. Heffley announced from the fire escape. “Now, every day there are thousands of people looking in my window. We’re not here to celebrate, we’re here to exploit. Welcome to the Renegade Cabaret.” Then Ms. Soychak launched into an a cappella rendition of Johnny Mercer’s “Early Autumn.”

Location, as all New Yorkers know, is destiny, and Ms. Heffley is embracing hers with gusto.

Posted on July 24: Since I returned to Qatar, more has been published on the Highline. One piece comments on the number of visitiors, giving lie to the suggestion that this park was only of interest to people living in the area.
The High Line is still under construction, with orange-vested workers busily adding last-minute touches. Yet the park, perched on an old elevated railway on the West Side of Manhattan, already seems like a permanent fixture, almost a small town in the air. ... A little more than a month since its first stretch opened, the High Line is a hit, and not just with tourists but with New Yorkers who are openly relishing a place where they can reflect and relax enough to get a new perspective on Manhattan. ... Weekdays it draws from 3,000 to 15,000 through its entrances at 20th, 18th, 16th, 14th and Gansevoort Streets. Weekends are busier, with roughly 18,000 to 20,000 visitors a day; but the park’s legal capacity is 1,700, so officials have often resorted to “special entry” for an hour or two, limiting entry to Gansevoort Street and, for those needing an elevator, 16th Street.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Islamic Feminism

A commentary in one of yesterday's local newspapers (link available in the title above) discusses the difference in treatment of women in the Quran and in practice in Muslim societies. The author, Amal Mohammed Al Malki, teaches English at the Qatar branch of Carnegie Mellon. There is a very strong voice of women in this region that is barely noticed in Western press. And as we move to remove stereotypical assumptions of others, commentaries like this are instructive.

The commentary is preceded by a reminder of the early elevation of women's rights in Muslim societies:

Those who study the Quran know that Islam elevated the rights of women beyond anything known in the pre-Islamic world. Muslim women were granted rights in the 7th century, such as property ownership, inheritance and divorce, not granted to European women until the 19th century.

The author opens by presenting the strong dichotomy often apparent in the treatment of women in Muslim societies.
How is it that Islam seems capable of undermining women and promoting them at the same time? Anyone attempting to take stock of the position of women in the Muslim world cannot help but be confused. One finds stories in the media all the time about injustices committed against Muslim women, such as “honour” killings, child marriage and unequal legal judgments in matters of divorce, custody and inheritance.

On the other hand, one also comes across stories about the remarkable strides made by Muslim women in education, career development and political activism in countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Morocco and Turkey.

How can we make sense of such a dichotomous picture?

The answer is simple: by distinguishing the religion of Islam from the Muslims who practice it.

The article suggests that there are two main norms being challenged: the patriarchal cultural customs mistaken for Islamic teaching and patriarchal interpretations of certain Quran verses.

Arifa Mazhar, manager of gender issues for the Pakistan-based Sungi Development Foundation, which attempts to mobilise marginalised local communities on behalf of their own development, declared at the International Congress on Islamic Feminism in Barcelona in 2008: “Instead of debating Islam, we should be debating culture and its impact ... There are a lot of social taboos and tribal traditions that oppress women, and they have little to do with Islam.”

The article concludes
Rooted in Islam and the Quranic spirit of equity, Islamic feminism provides a credible political voice for women. It gives women’s organisations, women’s rights advocates and gender scholars in the Muslim world legitimate grounds for action while fulfilling their religious obligations.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Morocco: Buildings and Deocrative Patterns

This second blog on my trip to Morocco consists of slideshows (links found at the end of this commentary) covering buildings and patterns. Go directly to the end if images are what you want. Otherwise, to appreciate the buildings it may be helpful to know that the architecture of Morocco is essentially an Islamic style of construction with profound influence from Spanish styles of the mid centuries. It is not very difficult to identify the architecture of Morocco (and indeed in the West today there are firms that specialize in so-called Moroccan architecture) because of its distinctive Islamic style comprised of some typical features:
- huge U- shaped arches and lovely domes
- large courtyards, adorned with charming gardens
- use of geometrical patterns.
- use of bright color schemes

- use of ornamental Islamic calligraphy and fewer pictures
- ornamentation of the exterior of the buildings

I have spread images among four slideshows here divided among housing, religion, schools and decorative patterns.

A few key concepts and examples may be useful:
The kasbah, a place for the local leader to live and that functioned as a defense when the city was under attack. A kasbah has high walls which often have no windows, athough examples here have some splendid views from windows. Sometimes, they were built on the top of hill to make them easier to defend. A good example seen here is the Taourirt Kasbah in Ouazazate.
This building is Ouarzazate’s only historic building and it has been rebuilt and renewed many times by the film industry that now forms the economic basis of Ouarzazate. It was originally begun in the 18th century and renovated in the 19th c. Interestingly, and not visited on our trip, the Kasbah stands beside a former Berber village, inhabited today by a busy population. In its winding streets are such modern accoutrments as an internet café, a former synagogue that now serves as a carpet shop and a herbalist.

The ksar, a term describing a Berber village consisting of generally attached houses, often having collective granaries and other structures (mosque, bath, oven, shops) widespread among the oasis populations of the Maghreb (northern Africa). Ksars are sometimes situated in mountain locations to make defense easier; they often are entirely within a single, continuous wall. The building material of the entire structure is normally adobe, or cut stone and adobe.

A good example seen here is Ait Benhaddou, now a UNESCO heritage site. The village sits on a hill on the bank of a small river flowing down from the Atlas Mountains. It was reputedly founded in 757, and was started as the home for one family and the settlement has grown out of this. The tomb of its founder Ben-Haddou is at the base of the hill behind the town. The front parts of the village are well restored, as this has been the setting of many films, from Lawrence of Arabia through to Gladiator. It has also been a testing ground for UNESCO and ICOMOS in preservation techniques. Therefore the first part of the town looks very impressive almost new, the higher up the hill however the less restoration you see and this gives a good feel for what the site would be like with out the investment. Within the 'old' town families still live, making their living from tourists. The image below is a watercolor still wet when purchased.

On the other side of the river, is a more modern part of town, where there are restaurants and shops still mostly mud brick architecture.

The Bahia Palace is a residence of another sort with a set of gardens located in Marrakech, Morocco. It was built in the late 19th century, intended to be the greatest palace of its time. The name means 'brilliance'. As in other buildings of the period in other countries, it was intended to capture the essence of the Islamic and Moroccan style. There is a 2 acre (8,000 m²) garden with rooms opening onto courtyards. Set up at the end of 19th century by Si Moussa, grand vizier of the sultan, for his personal use, this palace would bear the name of one of his wives. Here, the harem, which includes a vast court decorated with a central basin and surrounded by rooms intended for the concubines. As the black slave Abu Ahmed rose to power and wealth towards the end of the 19th century, he had the Bahia palace built by bringing in craftsmen from Fez.

Madersa or madrasah literally means "a place where learning/teaching is done". The word is also present as a loanword with the same innocuous meaning in many Arabic-influenced languages, such as: Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, Indonesian, Malay and Bosnian.
In the Arabic language, the word مدرسة (madrasah) simply means the same as school does in the English language, whether that is private, public or parochial school, as well as for any primary or secondary school whether Muslim, non-Muslim, or secular. Good examples reflected in thes slideshows are Madersa Ben Yousef and Madersa Bou Inania.

Religious monuments featured here include the Hassan II Mosque

as well as the remains of the 11thc dome of Koubba Ba’Adiyn. The Hassan II Mosque was built between 1986 and 1993 for the 60th birthday of former Moroccan king Hassan II. The Hassan II Mosque has space for 25,000 worshippers inside and another 80,000 outside. The 210-meter minaret is the tallest in the world and is visible day and night for miles around. Although Hassan II Mosque was designed by a French architect, it is Moroccan through and through. Except for the white granite columns and the glass chandeliers, the materials used to construct the mosque were taken from the Morocco region. 6,000 traditional Moroccan artisans worked for five years to turn these raw materials into mosaics, stone and marble floors and columns, sculpted plaster moldings, and carved and painted wood ceilings. The mosque also includes a number of modern touches: it was built to withstand earthquakes and has a heated floor, electric doors, a sliding roof, and lasers which shine at night from the top of the minaret toward Mecca.

The Koubba Ba’Adiyn, brick built dome, is the only example of Amoravid architecture in Marrakech. It was built in 1106 and was part of a richly decorated mosque that was demolished by Almogads. The rectangular pavilion in the photographs was recovered in 1948. The elements of the arches and the floral ornamentation anticipate the fullblown artistic creativity of the Islamic architecture.

The Saadian tombs were neglect for a couple centuries but still today represent some of the finest examples of Islamic architecture. The style is in complete contrast to the simplicity of earlier architecture. These tombs date from the 16-18th centuries although it was not until 1917 that they were made accessible to the public.

The final slideshow presents a sample of decorative images. To appreciate all the decorative images here as well as in the other slideshows, I offer some discussion of Islamic decoration comprised of three non-figural types of decoration: geometric, vegetal and calligraphic. All three appear in the images presented here although I find the geometric the most fascinating and pleasing.

Geometric abstract designs are found in vast abundance on the walls, floors and ceilings of the Islamic architecture as well as on any number of objects, bowls, vases, jewelry and clothing. We may see differences in quality and size of execution, but we see the same forms and designs recur regardless of medium. As the Metropolitan Museum essay, Geometric Patterns in Islamic Art, relates, “While geometric ornamentation may have reached a pinnacle in the Islamic world, the sources for both the shapes and the intricate patterns already existed in late antiquity among the Greeks, Romans, and Sasanians in Iran. Islamic artists appropriated key elements from the classical tradition, then complicated and elaborated upon them in order to invent a new form of decoration that stressed the importance of unity and order. The significant intellectual contributions of Islamic mathematicians, astronomers, and scientists were essential to the creation of this unique new style.” More

Vegetal patterns reflect nature with a great deal of accuracy whether they are used as motifs for textiles, objects or buildings. The arabesque, essentially a geometricized vegetal ornament, is based on the same underlying mathematical principles that govern the purely geometric patterns. D. Jones describes the arabesque as “characterized by a continuous stem which splits regularly, producing a series of counterpoised, leafy, secondary stems which can in turn split again or return to be reintegrated into the main stem.”

Calligraphy, with its role in reporting the word of God, is one of the most important Islamic arts. Almost every Islamic building has some calligraphy, often an inscription from the Qur’an, or a repetition of words like Allah, and often appearing as a frame around a doorway or cornice or window, providing a pattern for filtering light. And like geometric and vegetal patterns, calligraphy is closely linked to geometry, as the proportions are governed by mathematics.

As you will see in the images of housing, schools and religious places, there is always a sequence of spaces and a unity expressed regardless of the buildings purpose. Add water and light to the recurring geometric, vegetal and calligraphic decorative patterns and you see additional layers of patterns and transformation of space. Water is cooling and reflective, and, in a pool or contained fountain, is both stable and dynamic. Air may ripple the still pool whose reflections then become new patterns while the fountain adds a gentle murmur and creates new patterns as the water sprays up, down and out, often caught by a breeze. Light similarly modifies and creates patterns and is dynamic as the natural light from the sun changes positions and creates moving shadows. Jones writes that “many devices typical of Islamic architectural decoration -- for example, muqarnas [a honeycomb decoration that can reflect and refract light]-- are explained by a desire to dissolve the barriers between those elements of the buildings that are structural (load-bearing) and those that are ornamental (non-load-bearing).” (Sources: Jones, D: Architecture of the Islamic World; Islamic Arts and Architecture Organisation as quoted on the web site)

After looking at some of these images of Moroccan Islamic buildings, you may wish to look again at the images of the I.M. Pei Museum of Islamic Art shown in the blog on January 19. Considered together with the images from Oman and those from Morocco, it seems clear that while Pei drew enormously from the Islamic repertoire he imbued his building with the essence of Islamic architecture and translated what he saw into something both familiar and new. Quite a monument for what may be his last significant achievement.


Islamic architecture and patterns


Tombs and a Dome

Hassan I Mosque


Moroccan Sampler