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L’histoire urbaine du Koweït se divise en deux périodes : l’urbanisation, entre le 7 e siècle et le début du 20 e , et l’extension urbaine rapide qui commence peu après. À ce jour, les facteurs historiques et géographiques qui animent ces mouvements ne sont pas étudiés dans le détail. Dans notre étude, nous employons une grande quantité de données cartographiques brutes et secondaires pour analyser l’expansion urbaine et l’évolution formelle de Kuwait City depuis l’Antiquité. L’analyse de la première période porte surtout sur la cartographie des premiers établissements, et la rattache aux évènements marquants de l’histoire régionale. Pour la seconde période, nous avons produit de nombreuses cartes que nous avons étudiées pour comprendre et expliquer les mouvements de l’expansion urbaine. Nos résultats montrent que la première urbanisation du Koweït est motivée par la topographie, de même que par la disposition stratégique d’établissements commerciaux et défensifs. Par la suite, l’expansion urbaine est motivée par le rattachement aux zones d’activité économique, d’abord, puis par le tracé des routes commerciales, plus tard. Enfin, depuis 70 ans, l’évolution sur place de la forme urbaine s’explique entièrement par la planification centralisée du gouvernement.
shows the map of the territory within which the Emirate of Kuwait could exert its political power, as presented in the Anglo--Ottoman convention of 1913. The map shows two different zones that determined the levels of influence of Kuwait's rulers as follows: (1) The ruler of Kuwait could exercise complete political, legal, and military authority within the area centred on Kuwait fort and within the red line. (2) Within the area centred on Kuwait fort and within the green line, Kuwaiti rulers maintained indirect authority. While not ruling over the nomadic tribes there directly, the Emirate could collect taxes and regulate the movement of people and militaries. The green zone served as precursor to the modern borders of the state of Kuwait. For the first time, the locals (both permanent and nomadic groups) in an area spanning about 100 km around the Kuwait fort had a sense of national identity. Still, the vast majority of the permanent population in Kuwait was concentrated along the coastline, as evidenced in Figure 7. The political and economic stability of Kuwait played a huge role in its rapid urbanization at the beginning of the twentieth century. As of 1919, Kuwait City was among the largest and densest cities in the Middle East, with a density of approximately 12 people per 100 m² (Ffrench and Hill 1971). To contextualize this number, at the same time, most of the other Arabian Gulf societies were still spatially dispersed in minor settlements around water source locations.
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ARTICLE
Cartographic Analysis of Urban Expansion in Kuwait
Mohamed Alkhuzamy Aziz
Department of Geography / Fayoum University / Fayoum / Egypt
Galala University / Al Galala / Egypt
Nayef Alghais
Department of Geography / Kuwait University / Kaifan / Kuwait
RÉSUMÉ
L’histoire urbaine du Koweït se divise en deux périodes : l’urbanisation, entre le 7e siècle et le début du 20e, et l’extension
urbaine rapide qui commence peu après. À ce jour, les facteurs historiques et géographiques qui animent ces mouvements ne
sont pas étudiés dans le détail. Dans notre étude, nous employons une grande quantité de données cartographiques brutes
et secondaires pour analyser l’expansion urbaine et l’évolution formelle de Kuwait City depuis l’Antiquité. L’analyse de la
première période porte surtout sur la cartographie des premiers établissements, et la rattache aux évènements marquants
de l’histoire régionale. Pour la seconde période, nous avons produit de nombreuses cartes que nous avons étudiées pour
comprendre et expliquer les mouvements de l’expansion urbaine. Nos résultats montrent que la première urbanisation
du Koweït est motivée par la topographie, de même que par la disposition stratégique d’établissements commerciaux et
défensifs. Par la suite, l’expansion urbaine est motivée par le rattachement aux zones d’activité économique, d’abord, puis
par le tracé des routes commerciales, plus tard. Enfin, depuis 70 ans, l’évolution sur place de la forme urbaine s’explique
entièrement par la planification centralisée du gouvernement.
Mots clés:analyse cartographique, analyse historique, urbanisation, expansion urbaine, plan d’urbanisme, Koweït
ABSTRACT
Kuwait’s urban history can be divided into two periods: the urbanization era between the seventeenth century and the early
twentieth century and the rapid urban expansion that started shortly after. So far, the historical and geographical factors
that drove these trends have not been studied extensively. In this work, an abundance of cartographic raw and secondary
data was used to analyze the urban expansion and the evolution of the form of Kuwait City since antiquity. The analysis for
the first period mainly includes mapping early settlements and linking them to events that dominated the regional history.
For the second period, multiple custom-made maps were developed and studied in order to understand and explain the
patterns of urban expansion. The findings show that early urbanization in Kuwait was driven by the topography of the area,
as well as the strategic placement of trade and defensive settlements. Subsequently, urban expansion was driven initially by
adhering to areas with economic activity and later by expanding along trade route paths. Finally, over the last 70 years, the
local evolution of urban form has been driven completely by centralized planning from the government.
Keywords: cartographic analysis, historical analysis, urbanization, urban expansion, master plan, Kuwait
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Introduction
Urban history in the Arabian Gulf is often believed to have
started with the discovery of oil in the region and increased
revenue as a result of the emerging oil market (Gause 2011;
Hvidt 2011; Rizzo 2014). However, a variety of historical
facts and ancient monuments refute this belief. While, in
the modern era, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
region draws global attention due to its oil reserves (more
than a third of world oil reserves; OPEC 2020), it has in
fact been a critical trade and strategic hub, where count-
less civilizations originated, throve, and conquered over
millennia (Fromherz 2018).
Historically, Kuwait served the role of a land crossing for
trade convoys that travelled between the Arabian Gulf and
the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Figure 1 shows the
major historical trade routes and settlements in Kuwait
before the opening of the Suez Canal.
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Mohamed Alkhuzamy Aziz and Nayef Alghais
1991). The first civilizations were spatially bound to water
bodies, as they allowed the transport and trade of goods,
which in turn is necessary for the economic development
of urban centres (Maisels 2005). In addition, fresh water
is necessary for irrigation. Without sophisticated engi-
neering systems, which only became mainstream in recent
times, rivers, lakes, and ponds were extremely valuable in
sustaining a large food surplus for the growing urban pop-
ulation; hence most ancient cities were located near such
water bodies. Kuwait is not an exception to this rule, as
most of its ancient settlements were located by the Arabian
Gulf and near the Tigris and Euphrates delta.
The geographical distribution of the settlements in Kuwait
before the twentieth century can be analyzed into three
time periods:
Ancient Settlements
The island of Failaka was the main population centre in
Kuwait during the Bronze Age, due to its strategic location
at the entrance to the seaport of Kazma, where many trade
missions started their land journey all the way to the Le-
vant. The dominant Bronze Age civilization was Dilmun
(2200–1800 BCE). Recent excavations have shed light on
the ruins of these ancient settlements (Hilton 2014). The
importance of Failaka as a major trade and population
centre persisted through the following historical ages as
In the eighteenth century, Old Kuwait town formed from
growing groups of dwellings and fishermen’s cottages
around a main fort. The urban geography of Kuwait re-
mained mostly unchanged until the middle of the twen-
tieth century, when major urban redevelopment (master)
plans started being implemented (Slot 1991).
This research aims to present a comprehensive carto-
graphic analysis of the urban growth and expansion in
Kuwait throughout history, including all recent and future
master plans. In the first part of the analysis, cartographic
information from original maps will be used in conjunction
with historical data to identify the most important drivers
for urbanization in the region around Kuwait. In the sec-
ond part of the analysis, a period of approximately 70 years
will be studied in detail (1952–2020). New maps will be
developed that show the gradual expansion of Kuwait in
the context of urban planning and policy- making decisions
over the decades.
Historical Analysis of Kuwait’s Urbanization
SETTLEMENTS IN KUWAIT BEFORE THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
The first settlers were attracted to the coastal regions near
Kuwait due to the abundance of natural resources depos-
ited at the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates. In addition,
local trade and European exploration and colonial trips
expanded the number of settlements around Kuwait (Slot
Figure 1. Trade routes and main settlements in Kuwait before the nineteenth century
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Cartographic Analysis of Urban Expansion in Kuwait
control of the area changed hands between various states,
including the Assyrian, Persian, and Seleucid empires.
Burgan and Wafra, on mainland Kuwait, were settled by
the eighth century BCE, and archaeological evidence of
manmade Stone Age tools has been found there (Almutairi
2012). Subiya and Kazma capes eventually saw permanent
settlements due to their proximity to Failaka Island.
Settlements in the Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, Kuwait’s strategic location
was enhanced, as it served the role not only of a trading
hub, but also of a crossing point for Islamic conquests in
Persia ( Ulrich 2012). Failaka Island continued to attract
multiple residents over the Middle Ages and its popula-
tion expanded significantly over the first millennium CE.
Alqurainiya, at the north of the island, was considered one
of the most important urban centres at that time. New
Abbasid settlements were founded in Alqusour, close to
fresh groundwater reserves, and near Saaida, on the north-
west side of the island. Another large population centre on
the southwest side (Saad and Saaid towns) rose to promi-
nence due to its strategic location (closeness to the Kuwait
coastline) and the existence of fresh groundwater and a
large natural port. During the first millennium CE, human
settlements on the coast outside of Failaka, such as Qurain,
Jahra, Kazma, and Subiya, had notable and economically
active populations as well.
Modern Age Settlements
In the era of European expansion to Africa and Asia, the
Portuguese Empire settled in the region by the middle of
the sixteenth century CE. The Portuguese first founded
several settlements along the north coast of Failaka Island,
such as Alqurainiya and Alqusour, in strategic and easily
defensible locations (Salem 1977). During the same pe-
riod, Kuwait was founded as an emirate that had political
and security supremacy over the region.
The most notable of the numerous settlements on the
island, including the Portuguese posts, can be seen in
Figure2.
By comparing the archaeological evidence and the loca-
tions of the above and other historical sites in Failaka, a
few important observations can be made.
(1) Most ancient settlements were located at the west
side of the island. The evidence shows that this was
the starting point of trade routes from Southeast
Asia, Persia, and India to the Levant and the Medi-
terranean Sea.
(2) The location of the first settlements at the point
of the island closest to Kuwait’s coast confirms the
population connectedness between the islanders
and mainlanders.
(3) Most Portuguese settlements congregated at the
northwest side of the island, where the best natural
ports are. The Portuguese, being the skilful naviga-
tors they were, selected the most strategic location
for their trading posts.
(4) There is spatial continuity between the settlements
of the Middle Ages and the Portuguese settlements,
which confirms the similarities between activities
during these time periods. Both early Muslim con-
quests during the Middle Ages and Portuguese colo-
nization in the second millennium CE were centred
around settlements close to the coast. This implies
a heavy dependence of the local economy on mari-
time activities. The sole exception was a small num-
ber of Abbasid settlements at the centre and south
side of the island, where fresh water sources were
located.
(5) Historical settlements on the island spread over an
area equal to approximately 60% of the total area.
The remaining 40% of the land was never devel-
oped. This is evidence supporting the spatial in-
terconnections and continuity between the island
settlements over different eras and different rulers.
Figure 3 shows a consolidated map of archaeologi-
cal sites spread over the island that contains sites of
economic importance, including fishing sites, ship
docking areas, agricultural lands, grazing areas, bird
hunting areas, graveyards, and shrines.
Figure 4 shows a satellite image of Failaka island.
From comparing Figures 3 and 4, it is clear that the most
significant historical sites were located in fertile agricul-
tural lands (green on the map) and at natural ports.
Figure 2. Settlements in Failaka Island before the
nineteenth century according to the Danish mission
Source: Translated from Salem (1993, 25). All rights
reserved. Used with permission.
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Mohamed Alkhuzamy Aziz and Nayef Alghais
food and ammunition depot for himself when carrying out
hunting and recreation trips (Abu-Hakima 1988). Later, the
fort served as a hub of military expeditions and a shelter for
tribal shepherds (Niebuhr and others 1994).
Apart from Bani Khalid, Bedouin groups arrived and con-
structed simple huts stretching around the Kuwait City
fort in the form of a crescent (Al-Mulaifi 2016). Bedouins
are mostly nomadic, so the process of building permanent
residences was slow and lasted for at least two centuries. In
addition to hunting, these new settlers offered escorts and
protection to pilgrims from Iran and other Central Asian
regions in their trips toward Mecca.
Starting as early as the seventeenth century CE, another
group of tribes, called Utub, arrived and settled around
Kuwait (Casey 2007). The Utub were initially subject to
the Bani Khalid; however, the death of Sheikh Salman bin
Hamid gave them an opportunity to gain independence.
The Utub not only broke free of Bhani Khalid control, but
Sheikh Sabah I bin Jaber, their tribal leader, became the ruler
of Kuwait (Rush 1987) in 1752. By the dawn of the nine-
teenth century CE, the estimated total population around
the fort was 10,000, mostly distributed along a thin linear
band by the coast (Slot 1991), which can be seen in Figure 5.
During this period, the urban core of modern Kuwait was
formed. The urban area was approximately 11,500 m².
Most inhabitants resided in an area around an 800-m-long
wall protecting the fort, built in 1760.
Settlements in the Modern Era
The dominance of Kuwait City over Failaka Island started in
1670, under Bani Khalid, one of the largest and most pow-
erful Arab tribes at that time (Slot 1991). Barrak Ibn Araiir
Alhamid, the leader of the Bani Khalid tribe, established a
small fort where Kuwait City currently stands, initially as a
Figure 3. Locations of sites with archaeological evidence for economic activities on Failaka Island
Source: Translated from Salem (1993). All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Figure 4. Satellite image of Failaka island by Sentinel-2
on 13 November 2020
Source: Vision International (2020) from DigitalGlobe
Satellite Imagery, 50 cm, 4 bands (R,G,B,IR).
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Cartographic Analysis of Urban Expansion in Kuwait
Figure 6 shows the map of the territory within which the
Emirate of Kuwait could exert its political power, as pre-
sented in the Anglo–-Ottoman convention of 1913.
The map shows two different zones that determined the
levels of influence of Kuwait’s rulers as follows:
(1) The ruler of Kuwait could exercise complete politi-
cal, legal, and military authority within the area cen-
tred on Kuwait fort and within the red line.
(2) Within the area centred on Kuwait fort and within
the green line, Kuwaiti rulers maintained indirect
authority. While not ruling over the nomadic tribes
there directly, the Emirate could collect taxes and
regulate the movement of people and militaries.
The green zone served as precursor to the modern
borders of the state of Kuwait.
For the first time, the locals (both permanent and nomadic
groups) in an area spanning about 100 km around the
Kuwait fort had a sense of national identity. Still, the vast
majority of the permanent population in Kuwait was con-
centrated along the coastline, as evidenced in Figure 7.
The political and economic stability of Kuwait played a
huge role in its rapid urbanization at the beginning of the
twentieth century. As of 1919, Kuwait City was among the
largest and densest cities in the Middle East, with a density
of approximately 12 people per 100 m² (Ffrench and Hill
1971). To contextualize this number, at the same time, most
of the other Arabian Gulf societies were still spatially dis-
persed in minor settlements around water source locations.
Expanding within and beyond the Third Wall
Meanwhile, back in Kuwait, the ever-growing population
and the formation of a city centre necessitated the con-
struction of a third wall in 1921 to encompass the sprawl-
ing settlements that were built around the first two walls
(Abu-Hakima 1983). The three walls, along with their
gates and the respective areas enclosed by them, can be
seen in Figure 8.
Kuwait is the only Arabian city that built three walls as a
result of its urban expansion, which showed the intention
of integrating the newcomers. Other Arabian cities, such
as Cairo or Riyadh, had multiple walls, too, but they were
built or rebuilt after destruction at the same locations.
Residential neighbourhoods formed inside the area en-
closed by the new walls. Most of these neighbourhoods
comprised ethnically homogeneous inhabitants. The geo-
graphical boundaries of the neighbourhoods can be de-
fined based on three criteria:
(1) Historical sources that confirm the gathering of res-
idents in their respective neighbourhoods accord-
ing to their ethnicity.
(2) The spatial spread of the cemeteries according to
the religious beliefs of the majority ethnic group in
each neighbourhood.
Following the shift of power to the Utub, the urban popu-
lation and size in Kuwait increased rapidly (Al-Anzi 2000)
due to the following factors:
Peaceful policies of Sheikh Abdullah I bin Sabah be-
tween 1762 and 1814, which improved stability and
trade.
An epidemic of plague in Basrah in 1773 and its siege
by the Persians from 1775 to 1779, which led to the
diminution of its trade importance and the reloca-
tion of the British Agency to Kuwait.
The migration of minor tribes from the desert
around modern-day Iran to Kuwait.
A second wall 2.3 km long was constructed in 1811, en-
closing an urban area of 72,400 m². In 1831, a notable de-
cline in population to just 4000 people was observed, due
to a plague epidemic that killed more than half of the local
inhabitants (Ibrahim 1984). After the epidemic had sub-
sided, many Iraqi groups flocked to Kuwait due to political
instability in their country, which increased the population
to 35,000 by 1866. As a result, the urban density increased
from about 6 to 48 people per 100 m2, an eightfold rise over
a period of 50 years.
URBAN EXPANSION IN THE FIRST HALF
OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Setting the Sphere of Influence of Kuwait
During the first half of the twentieth century, Kuwait saw
a gradual transition from an emirate to a modern state. At
the turn of the century, Kuwait was a British protector-
ate. It reserved its right to self-determination under Brit-
ish protection against other colonial and imperial powers
(mainly the Ottomans) and the British from their side did
not interfere in its political and economic affairs (Sadek
and Crystal 2020).
Figure 5. Population distribution around Kuwait between
1765 and 1810
Source: Kuwait Municipality (1980). © 2020 Kuwait
Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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Mohamed Alkhuzamy Aziz and Nayef Alghais
The ethnographic composition of the main neighbour-
hoods was as follows (Kuwait Municipality 1980):
(1) Sharq, which was inhabited by merchants and Utub
tribesmen.
(2) Qibla, which was inhabited by Arabs from the des-
ert and Najd.
(3) Central (Wasat), which housed the palaces of the
ruling family and government facilities.
(4) Sawaber, which was inhabited by immigrants from
Basrah and West Iran.
(5) Mirqab, which was inhabited by immigrants from
Iran.
(6) Salhiya, which was inhabited by poor Bedouins.
(7) The sea front, which was inhabited by divers, fisher-
men, and some merchants.
(8) The commercial area, which was the district with
all major shops, workshops, and markets, as well as
some houses of merchants of Iranian origins.
Figure 6. Map of the territory controlled by the semi-autonomous Emirate of Kuwait based on the Anglo–Ottoman
convention of 1913
Source: Map to Show the Limits of Kuwait and Adjacent Country (1954 [1913]).
Figure 7. Population distribution in Kuwait between 1811
and 1917
Source: Kuwait Municipality (1980). © 2020 Kuwait
Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
(3) The radial extension of the main streets, consistent
with the networks in the old city (within the first
two walls).
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Cartographic Analysis of Urban Expansion in Kuwait
fishermen’s huts span significant areas, leaving little
space for residential buildings.
The third wall around Kuwait City was not considered
an obstacle to further urban expansion outside the city
zone. New regions outside the wall were being inhabited
due to factors such as the presence of water sources and
proximity to established communication lines with other
regions. Figure 11 shows a map from 1936, drawn by
Harold Dickson, the British colonial administrator in the
Middle East.
The map shows the proximity of settlements outside the
city to water sources, as well as to trade caravan roads.
Both factors made these settlements economically viable
and strategically important for the local rulers. Such was
the value of some of these areas that after the discovery of
oil in 1946, some members of the ruling Al Sabah family
started relocating outside the city and established residen-
tial outposts next to groundwater resources and suitable
soil for creating palace gardens.
A map showing the spatial distribution of the neighbour-
hoods listed above can be found in Figure 9.
Figure 10 shows an aerial photo of Kuwait taken in 1931.
From the photograph, three classes of districts can be
distinguished:
(1) High-density urban areas, such as Qibla and
Mirqab, where buildings almost touch each other
and are only separated by narrow winding roads.
Buildings fill more than 80% of the total area.
(2) Medium-density urban areas, characterized by
larger building footprints and lower population
density. Such areas include Sharq, Wasat, and
Sawaber.
(3) Low-density urban areas, where buildings are
spaced out significantly. The buildings cover less
than 50% of the total area, as in Salhiya, where
Bedouins lived in scattered tents and huts. An-
other example is the sea front, as port buildings and
Figure 8. Map of the three walls of Kuwait and the locations of their gates
Source: Al-Marzouk (n.d.). © 2020 Kuwait Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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Mohamed Alkhuzamy Aziz and Nayef Alghais
Jaber, the tenth ruler of Kuwait in 1931. Al Dimnah
(now known as Salmiya) was built in the Alqaraa
area for local fishermen due to its proximity to
groundwater wells.
(3) Southwest axis, which started from Shamiya,
where Bedouins used to live in huts and tents, and
stretched to the towns of Khaitan, Aldougah, and
Almaqwa.
(4) Western coastal axis, along which the districts of
Shuwaikh and Sulaibikhat were established.
This unforeseen expansion can be seen in Figure 12 and
in Figure 13, which is another aerial image taken in 1952,
a stark comparison to earlier population distributions
shown in Figures 5 and 7.
This trend of outward urban expansion occurred along
four directions, which formed the precursors for many
modern-day Kuwait districts:
(1) Eastern costal axis, along which many residential
districts, such as Shaab, Salmiya, Salwa, and Badaa,
were created. The morphology of the area provides
the area with scenic views, especially around the
Lisan peninsula. The expansion stretched all the
way to the south toward the old villages of Finitis,
Fintas, Fahaheel, Abu Halifa, and Alshuaiba.
(2) Southeast axis, which formed around the core
of Hawally, known for its rich farms since 1906
( Alrowaished 2017). A high plateau with fresh air
was the location of the palace of Sheikh Ahmad Al
Figure 9. Kuwait City land use
Source: Aziz (2001).
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Cartographic Analysis of Urban Expansion in Kuwait
Figure 10. Aerial photo of Kuwait in 1931
Source: Kuwait Municipality (1980). © 2020 Kuwait
Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Figure 11. Trade routes and emigration paths in Kuwait in 1936
Source: Aziz (2001).
By comparing Figure 13 with Figure 10, the extension of
roads and settlements from Shamiya gate can be seen.
Additionally, the west side of the city appears to be more
crowded than the east side, most likely due to the high land
value in the east.
Cartographic Analysis of Kuwait’s Urban Expansion
URBAN EXPANSION IN THE SECOND HALF
OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Shortly after the discovery of the Burgan reserve, one of the
largest oil fields in the world, Kuwait started exporting its
first oil shipments in June 1946 from Ahmadi port ( Crystal
2017). After that, oil production and exports increased
dramatically: the state revenues reached 57 million dollars
in 1952, which completely transformed Kuwait’s economy
(Ghabra 1997). Elevated oil revenue was the most promi-
nent factor leading to a renewed urbanization trend in the
second half of the twentieth century in Kuwait. In 1952,
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Mohamed Alkhuzamy Aziz and Nayef Alghais
planning of new ring roads, green belts, and amenities for
the public to have leisure, all of which were innovations in
the Middle East region.
Figure 14 shows a map of the first master plan proposed
land use.
The main goals of this plan were to (Buchanan 1983)
(1) Introduce the contiguous neighbourhood style in
residential districts.
(2) Replace the third wall with a green belt and a new
highway (the first ring road).
(3) Establish a network of ring roads and radial roads
that could meet traffic requirements between the
new residential districts and the city centre.
(4) Allocate spaces for government buildings and pub-
lic facilities, and at the same time preserve the aes-
thetic form of the city through afforestation (public
gardens) to boost tourism and leisure.
The most important result of this plan was the emergence
of the “Old” and “New” Kuwait districts. The Old Kuwait
district later transformed to the central business district
area, with commercial and administrative zones. More im-
portantly, this turned Kuwait into a city-state with control
and governance of the surrounding areas originating from
the central area.
Changes in the social and architectural structure occurred
in parallel to land use changes. Kuwaitis migrated to the
New Kuwait neighbourhoods outside the wall, while ex-
patriates remained in Old Kuwait. The New Kuwait dis-
tricts were characterized by harmonious architecture with
residences with no more than three floors. On the other
hand, non-Kuwaiti expatriates mainly lived in commercial
districts of Old Kuwait, characterized by inconsistency in
terms of architectural composition, with buildings span-
ning vertically from one to 20 floors.
The scattering of Kuwaiti families across New Kuwait elim-
inated the long-holding phenomenon of territories owned
and controlled by specific families, tribes, or social classes
due to random housing distribution and ancestral rites. In
general, it can be said that Sharq families moved to districts
extending from Sharq toward the south, such as Dasma
and Daiya. The Qibla families moved to districts extend-
ing from Qibla to the west, such as Shamiya and Shuwaikh.
A map showing the urban area of Kuwait during this mas-
ter plans period is shown in Figure 15.
Municipality Plan (1967)
This plan, also known as the regulatory plan for the res-
idential, commercial, and industrial areas, was a sup-
plementary amendment to the first master plan. The
justification for launching it was the rapid population
growth as a result of an influx of expatriates. The pop-
ulation growth projections of the first master plan
Kuwait adopted modern urban planning through a series
of master plans that made expansion directed and guided
rather than random and short-sighted (which had been the
case since antiquity).
First Master Plan (1952)
The first master plan was prepared by a British consulting
company called Minoporio, Spencely, and Macfarlane in
1952 (Buchanan 1983). Although this plan only indicated a
minor expansion of the urban area outside the third wall, it
is considered the most influential of all plans, as it affected
all the expansion decisions since its conception. The Euro-
pean, and particularly British, influence was evident in the
Figure 12. Population distribution in Kuwait between
1918 and 1950
Source: Kuwait Municipality (1980). © 2020 Kuwait
Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Figure 13. Aerial photo of Kuwait in 1952
Source: Kuwait Municipality (1980). © 2020 Kuwait
Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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Cartographic Analysis of Urban Expansion in Kuwait
Figure 14. Kuwait’s first master plan
Source: Translated from Kuwait Municipality (2020). © 2020 Kuwait Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Figure 15. Urban development and new districts in Kuwait as of 1967
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Mohamed Alkhuzamy Aziz and Nayef Alghais
Reorganizing and classifying land use for 40 residen-
tial, commercial, and industrial districts.
Implementing certain infrastructure projects within
the city, such as constructing a central bus station,
the fire brigade main building, and the Kuwait Air-
ways main building.
The emergence of new districts by filling open spaces
in the old city to the fourth ring road in order to
achieve a cohesive urban block.
Establishing the Shuaiba industrial district in the
south of the urban area on the east coast.
The emergence of new residential districts along the
western axis (west of Shuwaikh) as designed in the
1952 master plan.
Second Master Plan (1970)
The second master plan was designed by the British con-
sulting company Colin Buchanan and Partners in 1970.
underestimated the number of new emigrants by the end
of the 1960s. In turn, this necessitated a plan for opening
up new areas to accommodate these new inhabitants. The
municipality plan was developed in consultation with a
United Nations advisory group (Abu-Ayyash 1981). A
map showing the districts proposed by this plan can be
seen in Figure 16.
The map of the districts established by this plan for the
period between 1967 and 1970 can be seen in Figure 17.
The cartographic analysis of Figure 17 shows that the most
notable changes in the urban form of Kuwait during this
period were as follows:
Developing the 11-km-long ring main road from
Messila in the east to the airport road in the west.
Replacing many existing roundabouts at intersec-
tions with traffic lights.
Establishing new residential districts such as Nuzha,
Abdullah Alsalem, Omariya, and Mansouriya.
Figure 16. Municipal plan of 1967
Source: Translated from Kuwait Municipality (2020). © 2020 Kuwait Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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Cartographic Analysis of Urban Expansion in Kuwait
Redesigning Urban Areas Master Plan (1977)
This minor master plan was developed by the British con-
sulting company Shankland Cox and Partners. The main
goals of the plan were as follows:
(1) Developing the district centres by adding new urban
zones, such as shopping malls and supermarkets.
(2) Developing the industrial sector by establishing
new districts at the fringes of the urban area.
(3) Developing the old city inside the wall by develop-
ing new commercial centres and streets.
(4) Setting up new plans for cities in Subiya in the north
and Khiran in the south to accommodate future
population growth.
Figure 20 shows the land use and proposed facilities from
the 1977 plan.
The map of the districts established by this plan for the
period between 1977 and 1983 can be seen in Figure 21.
Cartographic analysis of Figure 21 shows that the most
notable changes in the urban form of Kuwait during this
period were as follows:
Infilling open spaces inside the urban area, especially
in the north along the fifth ring main road (9 new
districts).
Establishing four new industrial districts: Jahra in
the west, Fahaheel and Fintas in the south and Sub-
han in the southwest.
Amap showing the master plans land use and new area
designations can be seen in Figure 18.
The main goals of the plan were as follows:
(1) Improving the collection and analysis of geospa-
tial data for future planning using new surveying
methods.
(2) Setting up a new plan for natural resources
development.
(3) Setting up a short-term plan to address housing
shortages by establishing new districts between
1995 and 2005.
(4) Setting up a complementary long-term plan to ac-
commodate future population growth between
2005 and 2015.
The map of the districts established by this plan for the
period between 1970 and 1977 can be seen in Figure 19.
Cartographic analysis of Figure 19 shows that the most
notable changes in the urban form of Kuwait during this
period were as follows:
Rapid urban development along the east coastal line
via infilling of open spaces between existing districts.
Reclassification of the largest residential districts
into multiple new districts and development of an
area centre for each one.
Setting the foundations for new plans to face future
population growth and demand for dwellings.
Figure 17. Urban development and new districts in Kuwait as of 1970
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Mohamed Alkhuzamy Aziz and Nayef Alghais
Figure 18. Kuwait’s second master plan
Source: Translated from Kuwait Municipality (2020). ©2020 Kuwait Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Figure 19. Urban development and new districts in Kuwait as of 1977
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Cartographic Analysis of Urban Expansion in Kuwait
Figure 20. Urban area redevelopment according to the master plan of 1977
Source: Translated from Kuwait Municipality (2020). © 2020 Kuwait Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Figure 21. Urban development and new districts in Kuwait as of 1983
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Mohamed Alkhuzamy Aziz and Nayef Alghais
five-year executive plan by the Public Authority for
Housing Welfare (PAHW).
Finishing the Subhan industrial district.
Administrative reclassification of some residential
districts, such as the splitting of Sulaibikhat into
Sulaibikhat and Garnada in the west.
Third Master Plan (1995)
The last master plan of the twentieth century in Kuwait
was implemented in order to guide urban expansion in the
period between 1995 and 2010. This plan was designed by
an association of three organizations: Salem Al-Marzook
and Sabah Abe-Hanna, Shankland Cox and Partners, and
WS Atkins and Partners overseas (Al-Damkhi and others
2008). The main objectives of this plan were as follows:
(1) Developing the urban area after investigating the
educational, medicinal, leisure, and consumer
needs of the locals.
(2) Designing new zones for underdeveloped districts
and linking them with future strategies and policies.
(3) Setting up a new strategy for future expansion along
the four axes: the west axis from Jahra to Matlaa,
the southwest axis in Al-Shadadiya, the south axis
around Khiran, and the north axis around Subiya.
(4) Setting up plans for establishing new rural residen-
tial districts dominated by agricultural economies.
Amendment to Second Master Plan (1983)
This plan included amendments to the second master
plan of 1970 and was developed once more by the British
consulting company Colin Buchanan and Partners. Its
projections covered nearly 25 years (to 2005; Al-Damkhi
and others 2008). The map illustrating the modifications
to the land use, zoning and amenities can be seen in online
Figure S1.
The main goals of the modifications were as follows:
(1) Setting up a new long-term plan to address popula-
tion growth.
(2) Achieving balance between expatriates and citizen
numbers in certain districts.
(3) Cataloguing and mapping the natural resources of
Kuwait, especially water, agricultural, and mining
resources.
(4) Setting up a restoration plan for the historic areas in
the city centre (old city) and the development of the
sea front for tourism.
A map of the districts established by this plan for the
period between 1983 and 1995 can be seen in Figure 22.
Cartographic analysis of Figure 22 shows that the most
notable changes in the urban form of Kuwait during this
period were as follows:
Infilling the residential zones inside the urban area
on the north side of the sixth ring road through the
Figure 22. Urban development and new districts in Kuwait as of 1995
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Cartographic Analysis of Urban Expansion in Kuwait
Reorganization of several seaside residential districts
into new districts, such as Beida from Rumaithiya,
Anjafa from Salwa, and Abu Al Hasaniya from Abu
Fatira.
URBAN EXPANSION VIA SATELLITE CITIES IN THE TWENTY-FIRST
CENTURY
The fourth and final master plan (as of 2020) was pub-
lished in 2010 by the Kuwait Municipality. A map with the
details of this plan is shown in Figure 27.
The main goals of the fourth master plan were as follows:
(1) Establishing the role of Kuwait as a regional and
global financial and commercial centre.
(2) Aligning future urban expansion and land use with
social, economic, and political goals and strategies.
(3) Accommodating population growth, which was as-
sumed to reach more than 5 million in 2030, with a
balance between citizens and expatriates.
(4) Creating a new investment environment and reduc-
ing dependence on oil.
(5) Setting up plans for resource development and eco-
nomic and social prosperity.
(6) Ensuring the protection of wildlife.
Figures 23 and 24 show the third master plan’s new pro-
posed zones, as well as the redevelopment of existing zones.
Maps of the districts established by this plan for the peri-
ods between 1995 and 2004 and between 2004 and 2010
can be seen in Figures 25 and 26, respectively.
Cartographic analysis of Figures 25 and 26 shows that the
most notable changes in the urban form of Kuwait during
this period were as follows:
The intensification of open spaces between districts
reaching all the way to Jahra along the west axis and
to Umm Alhayman along the south axis. This pro-
cess generated many new districts.
Establishment of the first two districts classified as
cities” due to their large areas: Jaber Al Ahmed and
Saad Al Abdullah (East Jahra).
Establishment of Kuwait’s free trade zone in Shu-
waikh port.
Figure 23. Kuwait’s third master plan, 1995–2010
Source: Kuwait Municipality (2020). © 2020 Kuwait Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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Mohamed Alkhuzamy Aziz and Nayef Alghais
Figure 24. Urban area redevelopment strategy based on the third master plan
Source: Kuwait Municipality (2020). © 2020 Kuwait Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Figure 25. Urban development and new districts in Kuwait as of 2004
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Cartographic Analysis of Urban Expansion in Kuwait
Figure 26. Urban development and new districts in Kuwait as of 2010
Figure 27. Zoning under the fourth master plan, 2010–2030
Source: Kuwait Municipality (2020). © 2020 Kuwait Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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Mohamed Alkhuzamy Aziz and Nayef Alghais
Figure 28. New regions proposed under Kuwait’s fourth master plan
Source: Kuwait Municipality (2020). © 2020 Kuwait Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
were identified. This strategy was proposed in order
to preserve natural resources and the environment.
The most notable geographical constraints include
oil fields, military sites, underground water bodies,
farms, natural reserves and parks, historical sites, and
sand dunes (Alghais and Pullar 2017). These areas will
not be developed as urban zones in any future master
plans.
Special consideration was also given to the old Kuwait City,
and ambitious plans were put in place to reinvigorate its
status as a commercial, administrative, and tourist hub.
The proposed changes can be seen in Figure 30.
A map of the districts established by the fourth master
plan, as well as the new regional zones and cities for the
period between 2010 and 2020, can be seen in Figure 31.
Cartographic analysis of Figure 31 shows that the most
notable changes in the urban form of Kuwait during this
period were the following:
Three new cities were established in the south of the
country: Sabah Al-Ahmed city, Sabah Al-Ahmed
sea city, and Wafra residential district. In addition,
construction for an additional new city has begun
(South Sabah Al-Ahmed city).
A new residential district (Abdullah Al-Mubarak), a
new university city (Sabah Al-Salem), and two new
(5) Conserving natural resources and the environment.
(6) Directing future urban expansion outside the cur-
rent urban area, via the formation of new cities.
(7) Developing a modern road network and a train sys-
tem linking new cities to the current main Kuwait
City and neighbouring countries (GCC).
(8) Creating new job opportunities in a balanced man-
ner in the new cities.
(9) Establishing new labour cities near the new cities.
(10) Improving the infrastructure and urban services in
the current urban area and the old city.
Although the idea of creating new cities around the coun-
try was first proposed in the 1995 master plan, it was not
until the 2010 master plan that the official direction of
urban planning had shifted from the city-state model to a
multi-city country. Under this new strategy, Kuwait would
be divided into seven regions (shown in Figure 28) plus the
current urban area (Figure 29).
For the first time in the planning history of Kuwait, con-
sideration was given to the border areas. This strategy
aims to protect national integrity and reaffirm Kuwaits
regional role as an international communication and
trading hub. In this master plan, several urban devel-
opment exclusions because of geographical constraints
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Cartographic Analysis of Urban Expansion in Kuwait
Figure 29. Zoning and amenities proposed for the main urban area under the fourth master plan
Source: Kuwait Municipality (2020). © 2020 Kuwait Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
residential districts (West Abdullah Al-Mubarak and
South Abdullah Al-Mubarak) began development in
the central region of the country.
The development for a large new city (Matlaa) has
begun. Dwellers from Sulaibiya and Taima will be re-
located to it once it is complete.
A second craft service area was established in Ardiya
Al-Herafia.
The establishment of three residential districts in the
open spaces in east Qurain (Masayel, Fnaitees, and
Abu Fatira).
The launching of a project to construct the Sheikh
Jaber Al-Ahmed Causeway, which will be the fourth
longest marine bridge in the world, with a length of
37.5 km. The bridge will link the main urban area with
Subiya (Silk City) and is expected to shorten the com-
mute time significantly from 1 hour to about 15 min-
utes. The bridge location is illustrated in Figure32.
Discussion and Conclusions
According to Tucci, Giordano, and Ronza (2010), using
historical data is important for spatial analysis, and the use
of geovisualization techniques in GIS maps is necessary
in cartographic analysis to determine changes in cities
through time. In studying the cartographic characteristics
of the urbanization and urban expansion of Kuwait over
the centuries, a variety of geospatial and historical urban
data were considered. Specifically, in this study, the authors
analyzed the axes along which urban expansion occurred
and classified expansions into different types. Overlaying
the urban area and districts (where data were available)
over different time periods and comparing them with one
another allowed the derivation of a qualitative relationship
between certain areas and expansion types. Cartographic
analysis of the data yielded the following conclusions about
the history of urban expansion in Kuwait:
LINEAR EXPANSION
Urbanization and the consequent expansion in Kuwait orig-
inated from the fort built originally by the Bani Khalid in
the seventeenth century. This coincides with similar expan-
sion patterns observed in many Western cities that formed
around churches or medieval castles. What was unusual
about Kuwait was that instead of expanding in a radial fash-
ion around the fort, the expansion instead occurred in a cres-
cent shape along the coast, with a width that did not exceed
a few hundred metres until 1810. The reason for this type
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Mohamed Alkhuzamy Aziz and Nayef Alghais
Figure 30. Old city redevelopment proposed under the fourth master plan
Source: Kuwait Municipality (2020). © 2020 Kuwait Municipality. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Figure 31. Urban development, new cities, and regional zones and new districts in Kuwait as of 2020
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Cartographic Analysis of Urban Expansion in Kuwait
Figure 32. Location of the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-
Sabah Causeway
Source: MPW (2020). © 2020 Kuwait Ministry of Public
Works. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
of expansion was the presence of natural ports along the
bay that attracted an increasing number of fishermen. After
1810, the expansion finally started being directed toward
the desert. Regardless, for the first centuries of Kuwait’s ur-
ban history there was a strong spatial relationship between
expansion and morphology. The linear coastal morphology
acted as a driving factor for linear urban expansion.
STAR PATTERN EXPANSION
After the first wall of Kuwait collapsed in the 1920s, its ur-
ban form started expanding along various axes that traced
existing caravan trade routes toward the desert. The lon-
gest of these axes was in the southwest direction that linked
the main port to Bedouin camps. The city expanded to-
ward the edge of the third wall along these axes in what
resembled a star shape. The land crossings that linked the
urban areas inside the wall with desert camps and wells
were considered the geographical seeds for the outward
expansion observed in the twentieth century. Perhaps the
most important of these seeds was the Safat square, a ma-
jor market and meeting point for all desert caravan routes
coming to Kuwait (Nilsson 2017). Additional factors that
fuelled the starlike expansion were the commercial open-
ness of Kuwait after the discovery of oil in the 1940s, the
municipal services that began in the 1930s, and population
growth via the arrival of emigrants, which reached 120,000
persons by 1947 (Ffrench and Hill 1971).
RANDOM EXPANSION
Along with the expansion along the aforementioned axes,
population clusters appeared with a seemingly random dis-
tribution around the existing urban areas. Closer inspec-
tion and cartographic analysis revealed that most of these
settlements appeared near fresh-water wells and private
farms between the 1930s and 1950s. These settlements
formed the urban centres of many modern-day residential
districts. Interestingly, the main inhabitants of these clus-
ters were not poor farmers; instead they were rich fami-
lies that sought privacy and luxury outside the main city,
as well as the opportunity to own private land where they
could build leisure amenities. This trend faded quickly due
to the development of the first master plan in 1952.
DIRECTED HALF-RING PATTERN (CITY-STATE)
This pattern appeared in Kuwait after 1952 because of
centralized urban planning by the government. Districts
were developed in an organized fashion after a range of
geographical and demographic factors were considered.
New residential districts were opened up outside the third
wall (old city). In fact, since the threat of invasion sub-
sided after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the wall
was eventually replaced with a green belt that exists to
this day. In addition, a new road network in the shape of
seven half rings around the old city was constructed. These
half rings gave the urban shape its unique form that lasted
until well into the twenty-first century. Centralized plan-
ning brought about the balanced distribution of land use
and ensured that sufficient housing was available for the
increasing population in Kuwait. This expansion pattern
continued until recently, as all residential districts opened
up in the second half of the twentieth century were along
the half rings or a result of intensification of the open space
between the rings.
DIRECTED MULTIPLE CITIES (SATELLITE CITIES)
Finally, a new urban form emerged with the development
of the latest master plan in 2010. The reasons for moving
away from a radial expansion of the main city-state to a
satellite multi-city model included the higher than ex-
pected population growth and the new vision of Kuwait as
a regional and global financial and trade centre. The gov-
ernment decided to construct new urban centres around
the country that were independent of the main urban area
and located in regions with no significant prior historical
settlements. The plan aimed to generate new job oppor-
tunities, encourage foreign investments, and reduce the
dependence of the country on oil, in addition to accom-
modating the high population growth.
In conclusion, the historical urban expansion patterns in
Kuwait began with a linear form, which was prevalent from
the start of urbanization around 1760 until 1917, when the
second wall was removed and the third wall was built. Af-
terward, expansion along several axes lead to a star-shaped
urban form until the middle of the twentieth century. After
the third wall was removed in 1952, the directed expansion
pattern dominated and gave rise to the city-state form. Ku-
wait remained in this form until 2010, when the latest mas-
ter plan proposed establishing new independent satellite
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from an extensive analysis of cartographic raw and sec-
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also demonstrated how cartographic analysis may be used
to study demographic and social movements over time.
Acknowledgements
We thank Kuwait Municipality for providing the maps that
have been used in this research. We also thank Esri and
ArcGIS for the software that was used in this research’s
analysis and map production.
Author Information
Mohamed Alkhuzamy Aziz is a full professor of geoinformat-
ics and the Dean of Social and Human Sciences at Galala Uni-
versity, Egypt. He received his PhD in cartography from Vienna
University. He used to teach cartography and GIS at several
universities in Austria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait before
he moved back to Egypt. He has published 65 papers on car-
tography and applied GIS in German, English, and Arabic.
Nayef Alghais is an assistant professor in the Department
of Geography at Kuwait University. He earned a PhD in
geography from the University of Queensland, Australia,
in 2018. His research interests are in GIS, urban modelling,
population geography, urban planning, and urban geogra-
phy. E-mail: nayef.alghais@ku.edu.kw.
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