Right in the heart of Kuwait City opposite the Grand Mosque is the Kuwait Stock Exchange. Turn up any weekday (Sunday - Wednesday) between 10am and 1pm to watch one of the richest stock exchanges in the world in action. You will need to look the part to walk in, so dress like you are on business. Once you are inside you will see a real part of modern arabic culture. A fascinating visit you would never get to see anywhere else in the Gulf. This unique place also has a female only trading hall, one of the very few if not only one in the world. If you are a female visitor this is a great opportunity to see something truely unique. The Stock Exchange also has free wireless internet if you are inside. The wireless network is so good that if you sit across the road in the coffee shop Second Cup you can link into their network for free from a window seat.
This mosque easily wins the competition for oddest location of a place of worship. It is located in the parking lot of the Cartoon Network World building and does not appear to service any other population other than those who work in the building. That's a shame, because it is a actually a fairly pretty mosque that you would not expect to be in such a non-residential area. Its Turkish-style minaret and blue dome would imply that it is perhaps influenced by a non-Arab community, but it's not all that clear. Nevertheless, this is an interesting structure to contemplate even for a bit, as it is so out of place in its surroundings. Apart from that, it doesn't really have any particular features (such as patterns or tiling) that make it unique.
This attraction is not what I would call a traditional one. Rather, it's something that you would probably look forward to visiting if you went somewhere in the US or in Canada. Nevertheless, the sheer number of expats in Kuwait means that there is no shortage of places like this, where kids can go to do things that they could have done at home. This particular Cartoon Network World is not far from the Courtyard in Kuwait City, on the south-east side of the Maqwa roundabout.
Safat Square is not a particularly important square in Kuwait City (Safat is one of the districts of the capital), but it is a particularly impressive area. The square is very large and open, with a huge fountain in the centre that dominates your view. It is a main passage way from the area of the souq to the Baitak Tower and Liberation Tower areas. It also has a huge number of Indian and Pakistani vendors that clog the passage ways that go under the main streets, selling all sorts of cheap goods from China and India. I just really liked the polished marble aspect of the square and its fountain, which is why I suppose I took so many pictures of it.
I don't know what it is, but another obsession of Kuwaitis seems to be clocks. Not the wall kind, but the type that go into obelisks and various other outdoor monuments. There are several places throughout Kuwait City in which you can find clocks posted in the middle of roundabouts or in the centre of boulevards. I snapped pictures of these two, but I think that there are others, although perhaps not quite as extravagant as these ones. In any case, there is rarely an explanation for the clock-tower. Maybe Kuwaitis just really like to know the time...
One thing that Kuwaitis seem to really appreciate is murals. I'm not sure if there is some sort of basis for this in Kuwaiti culture, but, given the general level of dustiness and lack of urban planning in Kuwait, it can sometimes be rather surprising that you see a number of murals throughout the city. This one, which is located on Hillali Street not far from the JW Marriott, celebrates Kuwait's history of a shipping and fishing hub. I think that the general level of construction in the city has led many residents to desire a general campaign of beautification. The presence of these murals certainly goes a long way towards that, and it is undoubtedly a campaign that should please most visitors.
I'm not sure what the name of the mosque is, but I have called it the Abdullah al-Mubarak Mosque because it was at the roundabout between Abdullah al-Mubarak and Hillali Streets. It was a memorable structure mainly because it had one of the worst muezzins in the city. That aside, it was also somewhat interesting because of the greenery that surrounded it and covered up a large part of its façade. The architecture of the building is fairly standard for Kuwait and it was obvious that this mosque was built more for functionality (it was frequented more by Pakistanis and Indians than by Arabs) than for beauty and aesthetics. Nevertheless, the pigeons seemed to love the mosque and would flock here to roost throughout the day, which gave the entire roundabout a bit of a European feel.
This little garden is just off from the souq's restaurant section, next to the mosque. It is not a large park, but is a nice green break from the usual concrete of the city. The little garden has a few palm trees and some shrubs that help to block off the noise and distraction of the market. I didn't spend all that much time here, but I did always think that it went a long way to making the cafeteria area much more relaxing.
Contrary to what many people believe about the Gulf countries, Kuwait does in fact have a constitution with certain guaranteed rights that are protected by a Supreme Court. In fact, the Supreme Court has played a fairly influential role in Kuwaiti life over the past few years, reinforcing womens' rights and the boundaries of the ulema in deciding legislation. That, however, is not why I took all these pictures of the Supreme Court. Rather, I took pictures because I liked the design of the building and the way in which the Kuwaitis had used traditional patterning to adorn an otherwise functional building. You cannot go into the building - as many Supreme Courts around the world - but you can take pictures of the building and admire it from afar, most notably from Sawaber Park on Ali Al-Salem Street.
I'm not actually sure what the point of this monument is, but I'm guess that it is some sort of tribute to the liberation of the country from Iraqi forces in 1991. The symbolize of the sculpture seems to be something of a phoenix rising from the ashes, but the lack of any sort of explanation makes it difficult to be sure. This particular piece of artwork is just outside of a police station across from the Grand Mosque on Mubarak al-Kabeer Street. The white and silver dichotomy is interesting, as there doesn't seem to be any indication of the damage caused by the occupation (I mean in the colour scheme).
The idea of Kuwait as a desert society is a bit fallacious, as Kuwait City was long a marine and mercantile hub that relied more on the trade winds and merchant ships than on caravans and the Bedouin. Nevertheless, the desert is an integral part of Kuwait's image, especially abroad, and it would be a waste for any visitor to the country to avoid even a small trip out into it. We went to a private ranch (yes, a Royal Family member's ranch) near Abdally Farms, the turn-off for which is about 20 km south of Iraq. The trip out was pretty cool, because you get to pass Kuwaitis' campgrounds and various kite shows on the weekend. Once at the ranch, the experience is unlike any that you can have outside the Gulf (maybe in Israel too). Farmers here manage to make the desert bloom, and any farms here are true feats of hydroponics or irrigation. The desert itself is quite interesting, as the landscape is not the endless dunes that are more typical of Saudi Arabia. Instead, you will find all sorts of shrubs and hardy brush, as well as interesting rock formations and hills.
It may seem a bit odd to include a public park as an attraction, but in desert countries like Kuwait, a little bit of greenery open to the public can seem quite a site. Actually, this public park in Sawaber is quite nice and it does seem incredibly relaxing and peaceful when compared to the hectic traffic and dust of the rest of the city. Obviously, the lack of rainfall means that it is a bit difficult to keep the grass and trees here perfectly watered, but that can be forgiven given the climate. The caretaker of the park (the city, I assume) has done a fairly good job at landscaping and there is some attempt at making sure that the planning of the park corresponds to aesthetics in addition to keeping the greenery green. On a Friday morning, an early stroll through this park can go a long way to ensuring that you feel relaxed before the rush of the weekend.
Much like the wealthy patrons of churches and shrines in Mediaeval and Renaissance Europe, wealthy Kuwaitis also show a propensity to endow religious institutions with funds to construct buildings. Mesjid Shirin is one such example (Mesjid is Arabic for mosque and Shirin is both a Persian woman's name and the Persian word for sweet). It was funded by Yousef Behbehani, a member of one of Kuwait's wealthiest families of Iranian extraction. The fact that the family is originally Iranian may mean that this is a Shiite mosque, but I'm not sure. This is a fairly simple affair, except for the beautiful Persian-style blue dome that adorns the top of the structure. I was also quite impressed by the intricately carved stone screens, a feature that is fairly common in Arab architecture (but I'm not sure about their presence in Persian architecture). In all, this is a fairly new mosque (the calligraphy says that it was founded in 2001) and is located not off of Shuhada Street, east of the Courtyard.
Sharq is a part of the historic core of Kuwait City and, as a result, it can be a rather dense part of the city. In fact, Sharq doesn't have the same number of luxury mansions other areas do and many of its residents appear to be Indian and Pakistani immigrants. There are some shoddy-looking apartment blocks, in the middle of which you find this exquisite Sunni mosque with its beautiful minarets. This structure lis surrounded by apartment complexes. The cream colour of the walls is accented by intricate geometric patterns that represent a common theme in Arab architecture. The minarets are quite typical of the Gulf or Arab style, unlike the very thin Turkish ones that you see in the Balkans. This mosque was evidently built or restored after the War, at the expense of its patron Ibrahim Ismail, whose name now adorns the entrance to the mosque.
Kuwait has a law about how many mosques there must be in a square km, or within so many inhabitants, which can lead to a density of religious institutions not known in many Western countries. The effect is also one of highly diversified mosques, as builders seek to provide some sort of variety and diversity in the urban planning of the capital. This particular mosque is at the edge of the Mubarakiya market and its muezzin can be heard throughout the restaurants that border the market. The structure itself is interesting as well, particularly because of the oddly-shaped dome, which is almost cylindrical at its lower edges. I'm not sure if this is a traditional style of some part of the peninsula, or it is the idea of an avant-garde Islamic architect, but it helps to keep your attention when passing by. The lack of a Hussainiya here likely means that this is a Sunni mosque.