Qatar’s Cultura Star


Like a magnet, the Doha Museum of Islamic Art draws you to it immediately when seen from afar.  I hasten my step to become part of this magnificent work of architecture as soon as possible. Approaching on a slight gradient punctuated by date palms on either side, I am suddenly inside the building. Left, right and front of me is the sea! Opposite the museum rise the skyscrapers of Doha City, each one a marvel of modern design. This must be the very definition of contrast born of aesthetics and synergy!

The architecture of this edifice, built on landfill, draws its strength as much from its stark lines as from its roots in the past. Designed by the world-renowned Pritzker Prize-winning architect I. M. Pei, the building’s geometric harmony immediately commands attention. When the perception of dimension created by the variously oriented cubes combines with the angle of the sunshine at different hours of the day, the building’s splendor is even better appreciated. Initially, Pei apparently dragged his feet when the project was proposed to him.

“What I encountered was a world of diverse cultural richness starting from the Iberian Peninsula and extending across North Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan and India to the frontiers of China,” says Pei, who traveled in the Islamic world prior to taking on the project. Indeed Pei has reflected in his architectural lines his impressions of those journeys, which took him from Cordoba, once the Medina’t al-Zahra or City of Flowers, and Tunis across Egypt and Syria all the way to Samarqand. In Egypt especially, the historic Ahmad ibn Tulun Mosque impressed Pei and gave him inspiration. And the sophisticated building that ultimately emerged more than meets modern needs with its minimalist approach that utilizes Turkish triangles in its interior space.

Forging a link between present and past, a museum is an institution of continuing education where artifacts are collected, preserved and shared with the public. Architecture, trained personnel and experts, and the artifacts - spatial harmony, management, exhibition, lighting and preservation - are all separate disciplines in museology.

Doha Museum of the Islamic Arts is a museum that succeeds professionally in all these areas. Apart from being an art lover, I was moved as a Turk and a Muslim as well. At the same time, as a Turk and a Muslim I was proud of the museum, which spreads before the eyes in concrete form the cultural depth and richness of the geography of which I am a part. I hope that Turkey, which also has a wealth of monuments of this culture, a major portion of which it personally produced, will soon have a comparable museum and museologists.

The collections of the Doha Museum of Islamic Art exhibit a breadth that encompasses works of Islamic art starting from the 7th century A.D. and all the regions touched by Islamic culture. A mere glance at the periods and genres represented suffices to show with what sensitivity and meticulousness the artifacts were chosen.

Art lovers will find here monuments of the Umayyads, the Abbasids and Islamic Spain, as well as hundreds of artifacts from the Islamic civilizations of India, Iran, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Egypt, Syria, Anatolia and North Africa. And viewing the many rare manuscripts, glassware, metalwork, textiles and stonework in an up-to-date concept of exhibiting under perfect lighting is a very meaningful experience.

Another area that adds vitality to the museum is that allocated to temporary exhibitions. Mounted one after the other in collaboration with the world’s leading museums, they are spread out over the entire year. We witnessed a pleasant coincidence during our visit to the area, where an exhibition on the theme, Journey into the World of the Ottomans, featuring paintings by the Medieval Masters culled from Holland’s famous Rijksmuseum Collection, suddenly made us feel we were back in Istanbul.

One thing we can say about the Doha Museum of Islamic Art is that the building is a work of art in its own right. Its exhibition areas, inner courtyard, dome, walls and panoramic glass facade are the details that make this building unique. Together with the Museum of Modern Arab Arts that opened somewhat earlier, the Doha Museum of Islamic Art has clearly established the city of Doha high among the Mideast’s leading cities of culture. With its well-preserved authentic texture and its modern shopping centers, Qatar is a beautiful country boasting both desert and sea. All that aside, however, the Doha Museum of Islamic Art is reason enough to go to Qatar.

Closed on Tuesdays, the museum is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and on Fridays from 2 - 8 p.m. You can find thematic publications and replicas of the artifacts on display in the museum store.