Map of Abraj Al-KuwaitLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
The Kuwait Towers (Abraj Al-Kuwait in Arabic) is the most promising entry on Kuwait’s Tentative List. A visit is a great excuse to immerse yourself in the recent history of Kuwait. Next to the brash United Arab Emirates and Qatar, Kuwait is often overlooked. But economically it has bounced back nicely after recovering from the Iraqi occupation during the Gulf War (1990-1991). It has the fourth highest per capita income in the world according to the World Bank, and it is considered the region’s shining example on liberal achievements such as press freedom and gender equality.
The Towers are conveniently located in the heart of Kuwait City. They store water that is pumped from seawater distillation plants, and thus represent the network of modern water distribution among the population. The 3 that are known as the Kuwait Towers are the showpieces among the 34 water towers from the 1970s that lie scattered around Kuwait. Ironically only 1.5 out of these 3 provide the core function of storing water (the second one holds a viewing tower cum restaurant on top of the water reservoir and the third one only is there to illuminate the other two and for decoration I guess!).
The Kuwait Towers were damaged for 75% during the Iraqi occupation, but as the object of national identity they were rebuilt quickly and reopened in 1992. They date from the period that Kuwait enjoyed such a great oil-driven prosperity that it was equalled by few if any country around the world. Even I still remember reading in a magazine at school about all the free healthcare, education and money handouts the Kuwaiti citizens received. Oil still accounts for 90% of the government income. The current energy transition makes one think about which way a country like Kuwait is heading though.
After arriving in Kuwait late in the evening, I was pleased to have a very fine view of the illuminated towers from my 11th floor hotel room. They lighted up like Christmas ornaments, glittering and changing colours all the time. The colours used may also change for special occasions, as Martina & Ivan recently shot the Towers illuminated in the colours of the Kuwaiti national flag.
The next morning I walked towards them along the seafront. Kuwait City is surprisingly walkable, thanks to the wide pavements and low traffic. Up and close the towers proved to be attractive as well. I went up to the viewing platform of one of them (for 3 KWD – 8.3 EUR), from where you can have a look at the city through windows dusted with sand. There’s no attempt at interpretation about what the value of these Towers is – surely there would be room in one of them for a small exhibition? They’re an icon for sure, but also a bit of an empty shell.
I had the Kuwait Towers written down for nomination in 2019, but there is no clear info available whether Kuwait is really preparing a dossier. The latest news in this regard dates from January 2017 and indicates a visit by ICOMOS. Any future WH nomination of the Kuwait Towers will probably emphasize its “creative contribution to 20th century architecture”. It already received the Aga Khan Prize for Islamic Architecture, and comparisons are made with the Sydney Opera House. I would find it a pity though when its role in water management would not be acknowledged. Therefore I would like to see the other 31 towers also included in this nomination. While driving towards Kuwait City from the airport you can see another cluster of them to your right. These ones are striped and mushroom shaped, constructed to provide shade to the areas underneath.
The Kuwait towers belong to the category I like to call "My First UNESCO": nominate anything as a WHS, make semi-sensible OUV description and you will get nominated if your country doesn't have a WHS of its own. I could look at some candidates. But I actually liked Kuwait towers, as they are an artistic and architectural representation of water towers, a structure inherent and important to the country. They were designed and built in seventies, by Swedish architects and Yugoslavian gastarbeiters were used in the making. They're a mix of actual water towers, observatory and restaurant. There's an observation deck open until 11 p.m. and you can get inside at the last moment. The entrance fee is 6 kuwaiti dinars. We enjoyed our visit, though I have to say the best view is of the lit up towers themselves than of the city skyline.
You will see many of the Kuwait Water Towers as you drive around the country, but the tentative site is a group of three slender towers in Kuwait City known as Abraj Al-Kuwait. Aside from walking around the general area, I went up to the viewing sphere, from where you can see the various buildings under construction in Kuwait City. From the water towers, I walked along the waterfront to central Kuwait City, where I visited the fish market (one of the cleanest that I have visited) and Souk Al-Mubarakiya, by far the most interesting area of the capital (but the bar is very low). I ended my day drinking soft drinks at the world's only dry Hard Rock Cafe (it has since closed).