The number one place I wanted to visit in Qatar was the Museum of Islamic Arts. I had read that this is one museum you shouldn’t pass up. In checking the opening times, I saw that it was open until 8:00 PM so I decided we could wait to do it until the end of the day.
The building is impressive, and we could see it from almost anywhere in Doha. I.M. Pei was enticed to come out of retirement to take on the project at the age of 86. He felt it was a learning experience as he didn’t know much about Islam prior to the offer. He took the chance to wander through Egypt and Tunisia studying Islamic art and architecture. As he began to develop his vision, he was worried that with the amount of construction that Doha was undergoing, his project would be covered up. He convinced the Emir in charge to build an island so the work would have its own pedestal.
The building is a work of art, the island is large enough to have a park-like quality on its grounds. There is ample free parking, and the walk up to the museum entrance is bordered by palms and overlooks the cornice and the water. The fountain greets you with bursts of coolness, and the entryway beckons. The building itself is a stack of cubes, twisted on top of each other, with what looks like winking eyes near on the top. Pei wanted to use the cream-colored limestone so that the sun would contribute to the color of the building depending on the time of day, and while we were there, the outside mirrored hues of yellow, rose, and later into the evening even green.
The inside is just as impressive with another fountain, a circular staircase, an elaborate chandelier, and an intricate dome. It was sleek and modern, yet richly elaborate in its details, and a comfortable respite from the desert heat and winds. The most impressive feature was the huge window wall facing the other side of Doha and its cityscape. Eye-catching during the day, but by the time the sun set it was nothing short of breath-taking.
Housed in an art piece, it was obvious that the exhibits were going to be just as well thought out and fascinating. Two floors are dedicated to the permanent exhibits. Starting at the top and working our way down, the fourth floor had an exhibit of carpets from the Islamic world, the largest covered almost one full room, and all were hand-knotted masterpieces. The third floor’s exhibits highlighted pieces from many of the various Islamic periods, a progression from the old to the new. The pieces on this floor had a range of 1,300 years.
On the second floor, were many pieces highlighting geometry, science, calligraphy, and artistic writing. The first floor houses the special exhibits, while we were there this was on the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. The history of it, famous people, and how it is done. As a non-Muslim, barred from this experience, I found this extremely fascinating.
The museum really exceeded my expectations. It was beautifully laid out and informative with everything labeled in both Arabic and English, and there were plenty of opportunities to learn even more. The museum is free of charge, and so is its group tours (Thurs. and Sat.) as well as the audio tours. If when visiting, your time allows, I would not try to do the whole museum at once. Each floor could be done on a separate day. I thought going in the evening was magical because of the night views of the city. The restaurant is renown as some of the best food in the city, and it certainly has a spectacular view.
Have you been to Doha? Have you visited the Museum of Islamic Arts?