Exploring Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art

There are very few bits of culture and history readily accessible to visitors in Doha, Qatar. On the plus side this means that a quick visit to the city can often be enough to see everything. On the down side, however, it does mean that longer visits can quickly become lacking. With an extra day on my recent trip I made a point to explore the few highlights I was aware of, the keystone of which is the Museum of Islamic Art.

The museum is a spectacular building. The architecture (I. M. Pei is the architect) is simply stunning. That alone was enough to make me want to visit, just to get up close to the gorgeous building. And it also turns out that the building itself was – at least for me – at least half of the value of a visit.

The interior of the Museum of Islamic Art; incredible, really.

I’m not especially an art museum guy but my schedule basically gave me about 4 hours in the afternoon which I planned to spend in and around the museum. A friend who lives in Doha told me the night before at dinner that he’d be surprised if I managed to stretch the visit past two hours. He won that bet. There were two temporary exhibits on display when I visited, in addition to the permanent collection. I walked through everything in about two hours and that was walking pretty slowly, enjoying the air conditioning along with the art.

The exhibit about Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, was spectacular. The photos and other bits they had were all incredible. It was also quite educational for me as that’s not something I’ve ever really looked in to the history of. Alas, no photos were permitted in that exhibit. Some of the photos were reproduced in huge posters outside on the plaza in front of the museum; I did catch this couple posing with one of them.

Visitors posing with one of the images from the Hajj exhibit.

There was also a collection of swords on display in an exhibit entitled Steel and Gold. The level of detail and the ornate nature of some of the swords was truly impressive. But is also wasn’t a huge exhibit; I was probably through it in 20-30 minutes at most.

Detail of a sword handle. Lots of jewels.

The permanent collection has some interesting bits, ranging from calligraphy to wood engraving to astrolabes. It is not a particularly large collection so getting through it can be rather quick. Still, there are some very interesting pieces on display. At least I think so.

Inlaid wood; incredible detail.
An astrolabe from a few hundred years ago. The engraving detail was very cool.

In addition to the time I spent inside the museum I also walked around the small cove it sits on to the café on the far side. It offers up some great views of the Doha skyline, comfortable seats and a decent selection of snacks and drinks. Plus, with the breeze blowing in off the water the shaded café area wasn’t completely disgustingly hot.

Great views of the skyline from the cafe on the far side of the water.

As far as sights and attractions go in Doha I’d say that the Museum of Islamic Art is the best and most significant one to visit. And it was pretty small. Visually stunning, but still small.

Looking out from the patio of the museum across the bay towards the Doha skyline.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


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