Here’s why you must visit the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar
Twelve years back in November, when Qatar opened the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA), an iconic structure that stands out for its austerity and imposing beauty, it was hailed for its look as well as what it housed -- one of the world’s biggest and most comprehensive collections of Islamic art. Qatar has since emerged as one of the most powerful modern art collectors, and opened the majestic Qatar National Museum last year, but the MIA is still as monumental as ever.
Built on a manmade promontory in the Doha bay towards the south-east end of the beautiful Doha Corniche, and just a stone’s throw away from the Qatar National Museum, the MIA was opened on November 22, 2008. Designed by Chinese-American architect IM Pei, the MIA comprises a five-storey main building which is connected to an education wing by a big courtyard. There is nothing flashy about the soft-hued exterior but the reflection of sunlight on the different geometrical shapes of the building makes it look spectacular during day time while by evening, subtle artificial lighting takes over the duty.
After being given the responsibility of the museum, Chinese-American architect IM Pei went on a world tour to see some of the finest specimens of Islamic architecture. He went to India to see the architecture of the Mughal capital Fatehpur Sikri, the Grand Mosque in Córdoba, Spain, Umayyad Great Mosque in Damascus, Syria and the ribat fortresses at Monastir and Sousse in Tunisia, but he found his inspiration at the ablutions fountain of the Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo.
IM Pei, who passed away last year at the age of 102, had said that in the sabil (ablutions fountain) he found “a severe architecture that comes to life in the sun, with its shadows and shades of colour.”
A high tower which conceals a domed atrium adorns the centre of the main building and the architect has made use of the sunlight here as well as an oculus right in the centre captures the light and reflects it into the whole building. A 45-metre tall window that occupies all five stories provides panoramic views of Doha bay and the spectacular skyline beyond.
“I remained faithful to the inspiration I had found in the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, derived from its austerity and simplicity. It was this essence that I attempted to bring forth in the desert sun of Doha. It is the light of the desert that transforms the architecture into a play on light and shadow,” IM Pei had told Philip Jodidio, a famed author on art and architecture.
Four long rows of perfectly aligned date palm trees dress up both sides of the main pathway, which leads to a fountain and a bridge before it takes you to the museum. The interior of the museum is as impressive as the exterior, with various geometric patterns, a key element in Islamic architecture, adorning the whole place, be it the flooring, ceiling and the spaces in between including the staircase and the giant circular chandelier.
The MIA is the flagship project of Qatar Museums, chaired by Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Other museums in the country such as the National Museum of Qatar, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Qatar Museums Gallery at Katara, Al Riwaq Doha Exhibition Space, and the Al Zubarah World Heritage Site Visitor Centre also come under Qatar Museums.
Priceless collections of manuscripts, ceramics, metal, glass, ivory, textiles, wood, precious stones and artefacts from Asia, Africa and Europe are preserved and meticulously displayed in the first two floors in the main building. The first floor provides an introduction to some of the greatest works in Islamic art besides presenting the key elements of the tradition such as calligraphy, pattern, science and figural imagery. Meanwhile, the second floor takes us through the journey of Islamic art from 7th century Arabia to 19th century Turkey.
Ceramics and Glass Collection
From a simple ninth century bowl from Iraq to the intricately painted 16th-century water bottle made in Turkey, there is a varied collection of ceramics beautifully displayed, with plenty more in store. The ceramics played an important part in everyday life in the Islamic world and it came in the shape of basic kitchen wares, elaborate tile panels and other artefacts.
There is also a striking collection of glass, such as beautiful mosque lamps, goblets and vases of the mediaeval period, including the rare Mamluk enamelled glass bucket, with only four more pieces known to exist.
The vast collection comprises more than 800 manuscripts from Qur’ans through the centuries. Besides Qur’ans, ranging from the 7th century to Ottoman works of the 19th century, there are also manuscripts on science, literature and religion. The Abbasid Blue Qur’an, one of the finest manuscripts in the Islamic world, is among the prized possessions while it also has two of only five known pages from Timurid Baysunghur Qur’an, the largest Qur’an in the world. Another attraction is a page from the Shahnameh, one of the world's longest epic poems and among the most famous books of the Medieval period. Persian poet Ferdowsi took 30 years to complete the work.
The metalwork collection at the MIA exudes beauty and craftsmanship and it includes sculptures, daggers, vases, and other vessels. Most of the work is done in bronze, brass or steel with silver and gold used abundantly in giving it an added beauty. The collection is truly a reflection of the skilled metalwork of the Islamic world from the 7th century to modern times and their importance.
Beautiful Ka’aba textiles with verses from the Holy Qur’an embroidered on it are the most important part of the MIA collection, with most of the fabrics having covered the Holy Ka’aba at some point.
MIA’s textile collection also has some of the finest carpets from countries such as Iran, Turkey, India and China. While the Chinese-made ‘pomegranate vase’ pattern carpet in cotton and silk is one of the oldest designs, Turkey’s three-star holbein carpet made in wool is grand in size and intricate work. The Middle East has always been known for exquisitely woven carpets, but since they don’t last like metal and glass, only a small number of textiles have survived, especially from the olden age.
The items exhibited at the MIA is just ten per cent of its total collection, and that gives an idea of the grand scale of the museum. The MIA takes utmost care to document and preserve its invaluable collection. The authorities sometimes bring in important pieces from around the world during special exhibitions while it also lends them to other museums.
Cafe and Fine Dining
The MIA offers two places -- the MIA Cafe and Idam -- to take care of your gastronomical needs. The Cafe is located in the atrium, right adjacent to the entrance, and it has a spectacular view of Doha’s striking West Bay skyline. Catered by Grand Hyatt Doha Hotel & Villas, the Cafe offers hot and cold beverages, alongside a selection of fresh salads, homemade sandwiches and delicious sweet treat desserts.
Idam by world-famous chef Alain Ducasse, meanwhile, serves contemporary French Mediterranean haute cuisine with an Arabic twist. It is located on the fifth floor of the main building and it also provides a breathtaking view of the Doha Corniche.
The MIA is a perfect place for a family outing as it also has a big park, with playgrounds having special sections for children of different age groups, bike rentals for grown-ups as well as children, and bungee trampolines.
Other Facilities and MIA
- Two floors of permanent exhibition galleries
- Two Temporary Exhibitions Galleries
- One Special Exhibitions Gallery
- A 195-seat auditorium
- Prayer halls for men and women
- A gift shop
- A world-class conservation lab and object storage
- A library and closed rare-books study section
- Classrooms and offices
Saturday to Thursday: 9am – 7pm
Friday: 1.30pm – 7pm
You will be required to show your EHTERAZ app on entry and to wear your own face mask.
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