Carsten Niebuhr, the sole survivor of an ill-fated six year journey across the Middle East, was one of the first western explorers visit the Arabian peninsula. Niebuhr’s map of the Gulf produced in 1765 shows the towns of “Huale” (Huwaila) “Yusofie” (Yusufiya) and “Faraha” (Freiha), “Adsjar” (possibly al Khor) as well as “Gattar” (probably Bidda). However, the area of Qatar is not accurately portrayed and it is possible Niebuhr had not visited Qatar but based his map on information from local Arabs and English sea captains.
From the journal of David Seton, the British representation in Muscat from 1800-1809:
Bedih is Situated in 25.18 N. Lat. and is a large open bay full of Coral banks with very unequal soundings from twelve to three fathoms, the land is low and sandy, hardly to be seen at the distance of ten Miles, on a nearer approach, it seems gradually rising from both extremes towards the centre, where it forms a ridge at the distance of half a Mile from the Shore, under this ridge near the sea, are two hillocks and a Valley between them, off each of the hillocks runs a Shoal with half a fathom at high water and between them a Channel with one and a half fathoms, and at the distance of a Mile and a half three fathoms, on the Northern hillock is a fortified House with a Wall and Square tower, in the Valley a breast Work with two Guns, and on the southern hillock two large huts with some kind of defense, and half a Mile to the Southward near the ridge is another Square building with a flag staff, under the Northern hillock is a sandy beach on which two Buglas, one Dow & one Botella were drawn up with a breast work of Stones, the only direct landing place is in the mouth of the Valley, but it would be attended with great loss without ships to drive the Enemy away as it is flanked by the breast work and boats, in which were a number of Men and ten Guns, and fronted by the two Guns in the Valley, about two Miles to the South is a Sandy beach without cover for the Enemy’s snipers, but the Square building with the flagstaff must be stormed before the hillocks can be got at.
Major Colebrook’s report on the Persian Gulf littoral describes Bidda:
Guttur – Or Ul Budee [Al Bida], once a considerable town, is protected by two square Ghurries near the sea shore; but containing no fresh water they are incapable of defence except against sudden incursions of Bedouins, another Ghurry is situated two miles inland and has fresh water with it. This could contain two hundred men. There are remaining at Uk Budee about 250 men, but the original inhabitants, who may be expected to return from Bahrein, will augment them to 900 or 1,000 men, and if the Doasir tribe, who frequent the place as divers, again settle in it, from 600 to 800 men.
In a display of Britain’s naval domination of the region, and as an act of punishment for a breaking a general treaty of peace, the vessel Vestal bombards Bidda.
The first systematic survey of the Arabian Gulf was carried out between 1820 and 1829 by the Offices of the East India Company’s Bombay Marine. The task was completed in 1825 and published in 1829. Captain George Barnes Brucks describes the settlement at Bidda at this time:
Al Bidder Town is situated at the bottom of a harbour, formed by the reefs before mentioned…. When through, steer for the town, and anchor abreast the eastern tower, in three and a half fathom, about half a mile off shore. This place contains four hundred Arabs of the Nahune, Dooasir, and Abookara Tribes, and is frequented by the Monasir and other wandering tribes. In the pearl season the inhabitants are augmented to about twelve hundred, it being convenient to the banks, and so completely sheltered. The people are mostly fishermen; they have one or two trading boats, and, like all the other inhabitants of this coast, take a large share of the pearl fishery. They are subject to Bahrain. Cattle and poultry are procurable here, but they are very dear. Water, pretty good, can also be procured. The defences are a small Ghuree in the town, two or three towers, indifferent, and a Ghuree a mile to the north-westward of the town, on the rising ground.
Bidda is again bombarded by the British Navy after Al-Suwaidi, the Sudanese chief who then ruled Al Bidda, was accused of harbouring an outlaw.
Bin Tarif and his family relocate from Bahrain, settling in the south of Bidda. After the departure of Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa later the same year bin Tarif takes control of the town
Conflict between the tribes of Bahrain and Qatar were a defining element of the late 18th and 19th century history of the Qatar peninsula. This friction culminated in the battle of Fuwairit in 1847. A coalition commanded by bin Tarif, consisting of around 600 men, met the Bahraini troops commanded by Sheikh Mohammad bin Khalifa near Fuwairit. In a brief engagement bin Tarif and 80 of his men were killed, and the coalition of Qatari tribes defeated.
In the year following the Battle of Fuwairit, the al-Thani tribe left Fuwairit for al-Bidda, beginning the process of unification of Qatar under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani.
Doha (now a separate village close to Al Bidda) was attacked by Bahraini forces. The British, who wished to avoid disruption to trade, came to Qatar and met with the headman of Al Bidda, Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani, on behalf of ‘all the Sheikhs and tribes’ in the peninsula. Ottoman rule of the region continues however, and the Ottoman fort is maintained in Doha. The wealth of Doha, and the entire region, is based on pearling as Mohammed bin Thani illustrates when he comments “we are all from the highest to the lowest slaves of one master, Pearl” (1863).
By the early 20th Century the three towns of Al Bidda, Doha and Little Doha formed a single setllement. The town is described by Captain C. G. Constable and Lieutenant A.W. Stiffe in the 5th edition of the Persian Gulf Pilot
GUTTEH is the present name of the combined three towns in Al Bida harbour, viz ., Doha, Al Bida, and Little Doha. Of these, Doha, the eastern town, is partly walled, with several towers, half a mile south-west from Ras Nessa. The Sheikh’s house is at a large round tower, with a flagstaff, on the beach, about the centre of the town; westward of this tower is a, small bight, where boats are pulled up to repair. The reef dries off 2 ½ cables opposite this place.
North-westward of Doha, and joining it, is Little Doha, with a square fort on rising ground at its south-western corner. Al Bida joins Little Doha, the three places together forming the town of Gutteh, as before stated, and extending one mile along the shore. Al Bida is built up the side of the rising ground, and the Sheikh’s flag shown from the castle.
Lorimer’s Gazateer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia (1915) includes a description of Guttur, or Ul Buddee (al-Bidda).
Ottoman control of Qatar ends, and Doha is made the capital of the British protectorate of Qatar.
The Al Koot Fort fortress is built by Sheikh Abdulla Bin Qassim Al-Thani.
A United States survey of the region gives a description of Bidda and Doha:
Al Bida or Gutteh is the name of the combined tree towns … Doha, Al Bida, and Little Doha. Doha, the eastern town, ½ mile southwestward of Ras Nessa, is partially walled, with several towers. The Sheikh’s house is at a large round tower, with a flagstaff, on the beach about the middle of town; westward of this tower is a small bight, where boats are hauled up for repair. The reef dries ¼ mile off.
Little Doha, northwestward of and joining Doha, has a square fort on the rising ground at its southwestern corner. Al Bida joins Little Doha, and the three places extend 1 mile along the shore. Al Bida is situated on the side of the rising ground, and the Sheikh’s flag is flown from the castle. Al Bida fort, which is situated on rising ground, has a large tower and is conspicuous.
There is a tower near the wells 1 ½ miles southwestward of the town, and here there is a little cultivation; with this exception the whole country is desert.
The Sheikh of Katar or Al Bida has authority over the other chiefs. The three places together may contain a population of about 5,000 mixed tribes. They were formally constantly at feud with the Bedouin, and it may not be safe to be outside the walls after dark.
There are no large bagalas here [a large deep sea sailing Dhow], but many pearl boats and the inhabitants are all employed in the pearl fishery.”
During the early 20th century, much of Qatar’s economy still depended on fishing and pearling. At about 1900 Doha had a population of around 12,000 and around 350 pearling boats. However, the introduction of the Japanese cultured pearls and the global depression of the 1930s had a disastrous effect on the whole region. Qatar was plunged into poverty and the town of Doha, suffered a major downturn.
This lasted until in the late 1930s, when oil was discovered. However, the exploration and exportation was halted due to the second world war. Today the nation as a whole produces over 800,000 barrels of oil daily.
1940s and 1950s
The exploitation of Qatar’s oil reserves after the end of the second world war was to save the city, although it was to be some time before the source of their current and future wealth – natural gas – was exploited.
Doha becomes the nation’s capital following the independence of Qatar.