Under the gently rolling green parkland of Al Bidda Park in central Doha, there lies a secret. It is likely a settlement existed at Al Bidda at least from the 18th century, making it the oldest town in this part of Qatar. A map of Doha and Al Bidda produced in the 1860s shows two settlements;the town of Doha is surrounded by a city wall with fortified towers and Al Bidda is defended by a rectangular fort. Throughout the 19th century the two settlements of Al Bidda and Doha co-existed as separate towns, but continued to grow in size and importance. Early in the 20th century the two merged into a single city.
After the Ottomans finally left Qatar in 1915, the Al Thani ruler moved his seat of power to the area of the abandoned Ottoman fort and established the Emiri Diwan. In 1920, a United States Hydrographical survey of the region gives a description of the now conjoining settlements of Doha and Bidda, with “Little Doha” between them:
“Al Bidda or Gutteh [Qatar] is the name of the combined three towns … Doha, Al Bidda, and Little Doha. Doha, the eastern town, ½ mile south-westward of RasNessa, is partially walled, with several towers…Al Bidda is situated on the side of the rising ground, and the Sheikh’s flag is flown from the castle. Al Bidda fort, which is situated on rising ground, has a large tower and is conspicuous” (US Hydrographical Office 1920, 115-116).
The settlement of Al Bidda was occupied until the 1960s, when its buildings were demolished, and the area turned into parkland alongside the newly constructed corniche. Although no longer visible today it is likely the houses, mosques and fort of Al Bidda survive below the ground.
The Origins of Doha Project and Archaeology South East investigated the open spaces at Al Bidda with a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey of the area. GPR utilises an echo sounding method in which a transmitter sends out low powered radio energy and reflections from buried objects such as archaeological features or artefacts are picked up by the receiver. GPR can therefore be used to locate and map buried features in three dimensions without damaging the buried archaeology.
This survey at Al Bidda is the first time that GPR technology was used to look for archaeology in an urban context in Arabia.
Initial results suggest that there is indeed a buried town at Al Bidda. Further processing examination of the GPR data will help us build a clearer picture of the nature and depth of the remains of the town, revealing the secrets of early settlement beneath our feet.
Post by Daniel Eddisford, Origins of Doha Field Director