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Wed 6 Feb 2008 12:39 AM

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Kuwait details $77bn 'City of Silk'

Free trade zone inspired by ancient trade route aims to put Kuwait on map as regional financial hub.

The oil-rich Gulf state of Kuwait plans to build a major new city inspired by the Silk Road that it hopes will become a global trade and tourist attraction, an executive said on Tuesday.

The $77 billion "City of Silk" aims to revive the ancient trade route by becoming a major free trade zone linking central Asia with Europe.

"It is the largest single real estate development in the Middle East," Eric Kuhne, managing director of Eric R. Kuhne and Associates, which provided designs for the seaside city, told a conference.

The city, located in Subbiya on the northernmost tip of Kuwait Bay hard by the Iraqi border, will be home to 750,000 people when completed in 2030, Kuhne, a renowned international architect, said.

The City of Silk will be linked to the capital Kuwait City by a 26-kilometre causeway, greatly reducing the current road distance of some 120 kilometres. Two artificial islands will be built alongside the causeway.

Built on an area of 200 square kilometres, the city will consist of four major zones - a city of commerce, a city of leisure and recreation, a city of ecology and a city of diplomacy and education, Kuhne said.

The commerce city will sit in the middle of a canal system and aims to boost Kuwait's efforts to become a regional trade and financial centre, he said.

At the centre of the commerce city, a 1,001 metre tower will be built. Its height is a reference to the classic work of Arabic literature, The One Thousand and One Nights.

Three blades that will be built near the top of the tower, will carry a mosque, a church and a synagogue to signify the unity of the three monotheistic religions, Kuhne said.

The leisure city will house an international-standard Olympic village while the education and diplomacy city will house several universities and is also expected to be home to a number of foreign missions, he said.

Kuhne said the project has been approved in principle and that work is under way to secure passage of the necessary legislation for the city to be treated as a free trade zone.

He said he expected to secure the necessary approvals for construction to start by the end of the year.

Kuwait, which sits on 10% of global crude reserves, has been vying to restore its position as the most developed country in the Gulf, buoyed by windfall revenues from high oil prices that have increased its foreign assets to $213 billion.

The government plans to transform the emirate into a major regional financial and trade hub and the "City of Silk" project is being closely followed and encouraged by Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.

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