There’s More to Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art Than You Might Think
While a visit to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha will undoubtedly top the list of attractions for a small number of travellers to Qatar, it is fair to say that a larger proportion of the country’s visitors might simply follow their instincts and give it a miss. That would be a grave mistake, because this is a museum with more to offer than meets the eye – if you just know how to get the most out of your visit.
If the art museum idea doesn’t initially appeal, the first thing to remember is that even those people with a true passion for art probably won’t approach a museum by trying to see everything. In fact, many museum collections are so extensive that it’s not possible to see everything even if you tried, so instead, they will select in advance which exhibits they particularly want to see, and focus primarily on those. Just as you don’t have to order every single thing on the menu when you visit a restaurant, there is no obligation to look at every single artefact in a museum. So there’s absolutely nothing to feel guilty about when you skip the pottery floor entirely.
Art Lovers Have an Advantage
Of course, the art lover has one critical advantage when choosing what to see, and that is the benefit of background knowledge. They know which artists and styles appeal, and more importantly, they know the personal stories behind the artwork and its creator. They know the historical significance of each piece of work in the wider context of the genre, so when they look at a work of art, their appreciation runs much deeper. Fortunately, it’s not difficult for you to begin to do the same.
If you go to the Museum of Islamic Art website, you will see that they’ve already done the preparatory work for your visit in choosing what you might like to see. Follow the link for MIA Tours, and what you will find are not tours in the traditional sense, but suggestions for very small groups of exhibits on particular themes that you might like to find for yourself within the museum, along with the stories behind them. Visitors might select the Chinese trail, to see how Chinese art influenced the Islamic world; the Science trail, to see how scientific advances were represented in Islamic art; the Highlights trail, to learn about some of the most notable exhibits; or the Family trail, where hidden surprises will delight the children. If you’re taking the kids, you can rest assured they’ll come away fully informed about wonderful things like Simurghs – and so will you.
Something to Behold
When you’ve finished your exploration of the exhibits, enlightened but not overwhelmed, there’s also a chance to take in the splendour of the museum complex itself. The Museum of Islamic Art was designed by the late I.M. Pei and opened in 2008. Pei had insisted that it be constructed on a specially developed peninsula at the southern end of the crescent-shaped Corniche to ensure that it would never be overshadowed by surrounding buildings in the future. As a result, it offers spectacular views over the Persian Gulf and the Doha’s city skyline across the water. The architectural design itself draws its inspiration from the Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo, and incorporates geometric patterns from across the Islamic world, as well as making intriguing use of the changes in light and shade reflecting upon the limestone surfaces throughout the day.
Wind Down in the Park
Adjacent to the museum is a park containing a number of attractions including children’s play areas for a range of ages, bicycle rental, and a market. It is also worth considering the museum as a dining option. During opening hours, the café offers a very attractive menu, and there can be few better locations to enjoy lunch or dinner in the city. In addition, the museum also houses IDAM restaurant by Alain Ducasse, which provides dining possibilities much later into the evening, as well as cooking masterclasses. In short, a visit to the Museum of Islamic Art doesn’t simply begin and end with Islamic art.
If you do make the decision to visit, the museum is open every day from 09:00-19:00 with the exception of Friday mornings. Admission as of December 2019 is 50 QAR (≈ 13 USD) for non-resident adults and free for children up to 16. The location is within walking distance of Souq Waqif if you want to combine your visit with another popular attraction, and it’s only around 15 minutes’ drive from Hamad International Airport. Qatar offers free visa on arrival to most nationalities so even if you are only in Doha in transit and have a few hours to spare, there’s no better way to get a taste of the Arab world.
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