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Kuwait City


Capital of Kuwait.

The origins of modern Kuwait appear to date to a settlement generally identified on early maps as Grane, a phonetic spelling of of Qurayn (Arabic for either "hillock" or "little horn," both describing features of the coast). By the last third of the eighteenth century, the name Kuwait ("little fort") also was used by the migrating clans from central Arabia who had settled there. In the nineteenth century, Kuwait developed into a significant entrepôt, the home port of large trading vessels. Shipbuilding was a major industry, along with pearl fishing, which employed some 700 ships and 15,000 men by the early twentieth century. The town was walled in 1920 during four months of furious preparation to defend it against bedouin marauders, an event laying the groundwork for the state's current definition of citizenship. Residents of the town in 1920 and their descendants became "first category" citizens under the nationality law of 1959.

With the influx of oil wealth in the 1950s, the town was transformed. Under a master plan drawn up by a British firm, most of the old city was razed and rebuilt to contemporary Western tastes. Between 1960 and 1964 the Palestinian-American architect and city planner Saba George Shiber sought to reincorporate elements of Kuwait's past into the city's urban landscape. His influence is visible in the National Assembly building and the seafront water towers.

The 1990 to 1991 Iraqi occupation and war inflicted extensive damage on buildings and infrastructure in the city. Remnants of the wall and its gates were almost totally lost, the Dasman and Sief Palaces were damaged extensively, and the old suq was destroyed. Much of the new Kuwait was trashed as well. Public and private buildings, including homes, were filled with broken furniture, damaged books and papers, and occasional strategic deposits of human waste. An appalling wreckage was left in the Kuwait Museum, a complex housing a notable collection of Islamic art whose courtyard on the seafront had been home to a now-missing old Kuwaiti dhow.

Postwar rehabilitation proceeded rapidly and has been overtaken by new construction. The city center has acquired new high-rises. There is an explosion of growth in the suburbs, especially in Salmiya, which now sports American-style malls and a seafront aquarium. Prior to the invasion, urban sprawl spilled primarily southward, along the coast beyond Salmiya and inland to suburbs such as Jabriya and Rumaythiya. Now the city is spreading north and west as well, past the health and science complexes lying beyond the university's Shuwaykh campus, and inland, toward Jahra.

What has not changed is the traffic. The city hub is surrounded by a series of concentric arcsthe Ring Roadsconnected by major thoroughfare and highway "spokes." On and off the highways, the city is beset by traffic congestion with its associated noise, pollution, accidents, and parking problems. The population of Kuwait in 2004 was 2,257,549 residents.

see also kuwait.


Bonine, Michael E. "The Urbanization of the Persian Gulf Nations." In The Persian Gulf States: A General Survey, edited by Alvin J. Cottrell. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.

Crystal, Jill. Kuwait: The Transformation of an Oil State. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992.

malcolm c. peck
updated by mary ann tÉtreault

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