Cultural Highlights in Qatar
Here you can find a selection of museums, galleries and cultural sites
Museum of Islamic Art
The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) comprises the largest collection of Islamic art in the world. The museum has been instrumental in making Qatar one of the cultural capitals of the Middle East.
Covering an area of approximately 260,000 square meters, the museum holds a big share of Qatar’s extensive art collection. It consists of ceramics, textiles, historical artefacts and weapons as well as books and documents from more than 1,000 years of Islamic history. The artefacts originate from the Arab world during the Middle Ages, from Spain in the West to India and Central Asia in the East.
The museum was designed by American star architect I.M. Pei. The extraordinarily successful building, which embodies oriental architecture and is yet characterized by the quite unmistakably bold, avant-garde design of Pei, is located in a very beautiful park at the port of Doha. From the inside of the museum – one stands in the middle of history, whilst looking into the future through a huge glass front: Opposite, beyond the Bay, the skyline of the business district of West Bay is built. The museum cafe with the “one-million-dollar view” has become a popular meeting place in Doha.
Currently, musicians from the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra play classical music in the large hall of the museum. Fortunately, more and more Qatari families come to these concerts, to whom our music will certainly be very unique.
Its unique collections, extraordinary exhibits and events, and spectacular architecture make a visit to the Museum of Islamic Art a must for any culture-loving visitor to Doha. The museum shop also offers high-quality artefacts and replicas of ancient art, which are ideal as a souvenir.
The MIA also houses a modern cube-like exhibition hall for modern art and art projects, the Al Riwaq Gallery. Here, in changing exhibitions, current, provocative art has been exhibited, for example by Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami or Dia Al-Azzawi. The Al Riwaq Gallery also facilitated the large exhibition “German Design” as part of the German-Qatar Cultural Year 2017.
Further information about the MIA can be found here.
The Mathaf (Arab Museum of Modern Art) is a museum of modern contemporary art with a focus on current artistic positions from the Arab world.
The building, which opened in 2010, covers an exhibition area of approximately 5,500 meters over two floors. The museum has been integrated into an existing vacant school building and is located just outside the center of Doha in Education City. The complex includes a research library, a cafe and a museum shop.
The starting point of today’s collection was a private collection of thousands of artefacts of modern Arabic art by Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al Thani. Today, the Mathaf (Arabic word for museum) houses more than 9,000 exhibits and is therefore not only the first, but also the most important of its kind in the region.
The museum shows constantly changing works from the collection of the house as well as current works of internationally recognized modern artists from other cultures.
The exploration of modern art is said to promote conversations about social and political issues of history and contemporary life in Qatar, the Middle East and the Arab world. The Mathaf belongs to Qatar Museum, an institution run by Sheikha Al Mayassa Al Thani, sister of the ruling Emir. Sheikha Al Mayassa is one of the most important contemporary art collectors; she is sometimes referred to as “the Medici of the Present.” According to her ideas, the Mathaf serves as a central and important attraction and research center for the modern art of the entire Arab world. Mathaf has now become a highlight of the cultural landscape in the Gulf region.
Further information on the Mathaf can be found here.
The Doha Fire Station was initially built as a building for the fire brigade. After extensive reconstruction and modernization, it has served as an exhibition space and platform for the young art scene in Qatar since 2012. But also, significant exhibitions and plenty of opportunities for the art-loving residents of Qatar characterize this exciting cultural square in the middle of Doha. The building is located on a hill between the old town and the West Bay, offering a magnificent view over the city.
The Fire Station offers Qatari and non-Qatari residing artists the opportunity to apply for a nine-month “Artist in Residence Program” to work on a project of their choice.
During this time, the Fire Station will provide the artists with production, mentoring and curatorial support in addition to offering facilities. After completion of the residency, the results will be presented to the public in a 700 square meters exhibition space, the Garage Gallery, in an annual Artists in Residence (AIR) exhibition.
The aim of the initiative of Qatar Museums is, in addition to the promotion and appreciation of art in the heart of Doha, also the multi-cultural aspect: People of different backgrounds can develop their ideas, get together with like-minded people and gather artistic and social experiences.
Fire Station also offers many events and activities related to art. These include studio visits, films or courses on very different topics.
Fire Station gained its regional recognition through regularly recurring exhibitions of artists of international importance.
Visitors can relax at Cafe # 999 or Truck # 999, Doha’s second-oldest fire truck, and enjoy culinary delights. Artist materials and books are for sale at the Cass Art Shop next door.
Further information on the Fire Station can be found here.
Qatar National Museum
The new National Museum of Qatar is a masterpiece of architecture: The basic idea behind the design by the French architect and Pritzker-Prize-Winner Jean Nouvel are the complex, rosette-like structures of the so-called desert roses – bizarre structures that form in the desert during the evaporation and crystallization of gypsum. For this motif of the “Desert Rose”, a complex of buildings has been developed measuring approximately 400 x 250 meters in the base area and reaching a height of up to 40 meters. The building itself is made up of 600 different discus-shaped elements that are merged together.
The museum stands exactly where the palace of the ruling Sheikh stood in the 20th century, which is also where he lived with his family, and from there served as head of state for 25 years. The museum, which has been under construction for years due to its extremely sophisticated structure, is scheduled to open in 2018.
Qatar is “a nation in the making” – a very young state that is currently shaping its identity, looking back at its own history. Future visitors will be introduced to the cultural heritage of the emirate and its inhabitants, bridging the past, the present and the future. The National Museum is intended for locals as well as tourists and expatriates of the country. Visitors will be able to find out about the Bedouin ancestors of the Qataris, the origins of early cities and the modernization of the Qatari society in a very short time. Exhibitions will present historical objects that document contemporary influences and thus facilitate a dialogue on the effects of rapid change on an originally very conservative society.
Further information on the Qatar National Museum can be found here.
Katara Cultural Village
The Katara Cultural Village is the cultural center of Doha. It was founded by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the father of today’s Emir. It is the largest multi-dimensional cultural project in the country and covers an area of about 100 hectares. It was built in traditional style, located between the West Bay Area and The Pearl.
Among the main attractions are:
- The amphitheater which stands in the center of Katara. Its architecture is that of a classic amphitheater. It offers plenty of space for world-class concerts and theatrical events with seating for 5,000 people. Classical music as well as rock is performed here.
- The Opera House – home to the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. Architecturally, the Opera House combines modernity with traditional Islamic design, a place where some of the best-known international artists perform.
- The Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 2007 by Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the mother of the current Emir, and had its inauguration concert in October 2008. It comprises of 101 experienced musicians from all over the world.
- The Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, managed for many years by the renowned German director Kurt Meister, offers an average of 40 different programs per year at its headquarters in the Katara Opera House.
- The theater – with impressive authenticity gives the impression of an open-air theater. Film and acting are the main focus, but also a variety of other events have their place here.
- The art and exhibition halls with several galleries and societies. In Katara, there are several galleries and venues for events of all kinds. Especially for the art exhibitions taking place there, Katara Cultural Village is a hotspot in the region and beyond.
- The Doha Film Institute (DFI) has established itself in the cinematic scene not only in the Middle East, within the approximately 10 years of its existence. Originally it cooperated with the New York Tribeca Festival. For some years, however, it has found its own path by giving Arab culture an appropriate room in the features movies that is free of clichés and prejudices. The DFI also produces and finances films from its own production. The annual film festival attracts thousands of visitors from abroad.
- The Katara Mosque with the two adjoining Pigeon Towers is a work of art of Islamic architecture and ornamentation.
- The Golden Mosque, a mosque built in the Ottoman style, impresses with its golden splendor: the outer walls are covered with extremely small golden mosaics.
- The Katara Gardens. These gardens are of impressive beauty. On more than 30,000 square meters, artistically arranged gardens with a variety of plants from the continents invite you to linger in the green. Without artificial irrigation, of course, hardly anything would grow here.
A Falconry is also located on the grounds of Katara.
Several restaurants and cafes offer excellent cuisine and invite you to relax in artistically sophisticated surroundings. The local seafood restaurant L’wzaar is one of the most popular in the city; the selection of fish and seafood on ice, which you can combine at the buffet for your own meal, is unrivalled in the Gulf.
Katara fully lives up to its claim to be a high-quality and exciting place of culture. The program with concerts, events, performances, exhibitions as well as international and regional festivals is diverse and quite sophisticated. Since in Qatar only about five percent of the population are native Qatari, Katara is also a place where people from all over the world come together by exchanging art and culture.
At the same time, Katara is also a place for Qatari traditions. Incidentally, the name “Katara” can be found on a historical map and is one of the first pieces of evidence of the early existence of life and culture on this small peninsula in the Gulf.
Entertainment also has its place here: the Bay of Katara is lined with a public 1.5 kilometer long beach, where you can find a wide range of water sports: kayaking and canoeing, water skiing, wakeboarding, catamaran sailing, parasailing, banana boat, donut riding and jet skiing, to give a few examples.
Further information on Katara can be found here.
Al Zubarah Fort and Al Zubarah Town
About 100 kilometers outside of Doha, on the northwest coast of Qatar is the well restored Fort Al Zubarah and a 60-acre archaeological site in the surrounding area. This area is one of the best-preserved examples of historical settlements in the Arabian Gulf. In 2013, the cultural site was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The coastal city of Al Zubarah flourished in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as a pearl and trading center, due to its trade relations deep into the Arabian Peninsula and across the Indian Ocean to West Asia. The archaeological findings of the small town with its former palaces, mosques, court houses and fishermen’s huts are a well-preserved testimony to the urban commercial and pearl diving tradition. Trade supported the major coastal cities of the region and led to the development of small independent states that were beyond the control of the Ottoman, European and Persian empires and eventually led to the emergence of today’s Gulf States.
Al Zubarah City provides an important insight into the urban life as well as social and economic history of the Gulf before the discovery of oil and gas in the 20th century.
Al Zubarah Fort is located right next to Zubarah City’s archaeological site, but has no immediate relationship with it. It was built by Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani in 1938 and originally served as a coast guard and police station. Later it was converted into a museum and today it exhibits various exhibitions and also archaeological findings.
Further information on Al Zubarah can be found here.
Al Wakrah Heritage Village
Al Wakarah Heritage Village is a new, but traditionally rebuilt Qatari village, in the town of Al Wakrah. Al Wakrah itself is a former fishing and pearl diving center south of Doha. In the harbour complex you can still find old craft shops, which build dhows according to old methods.
The new Heritage Village includes the Al Wakrah Souq, which stretches 3 kilometers along the city, and a beautiful promenade, the Al Wakrah Corniche, which is a great place to stroll along. The village was opened after seven years of construction in December 2014. Al Wakrah Heritage Village has a beautiful mosque, over a hundred traditional craft shops and several restaurants.
Film City und Mystery Valley
In the northwest of Qatar, there are two worthwhile destinations for a trip: “Film City”, a Moorish-style small town and the “Mystery Valley,” a group of round stone houses. Both places appear to be from the past, but were in fact built in 2000 as a backdrop for the local film production “Eial al-deeb / The Sons of the Wolf”.
The Mystery Valley is located on the Ras Aberug peninsula in the Bir Zekreet area. To get here, you absolutely need a SUV. On the way to Dukhan, turn off at a junction towards Bir Zekreet and after a 30 minutes’ drive through uneven terrain, a mushroom-shaped rock with a round stone house rises at the opening of a basin. It looks like remains from an ancient culture, not like a fictional film set. Further inside the cauldron, on the walls of the limestone cliffs, are even more of these round houses, all of which provide an impressive backdrop.
At the end of the valley, you will reach the second movie set, “Film City”, like a mirage, suddenly appearing in the barren desert landscape with its houses, towers and palm trees. These buildings are elaborately built in stone, in traditional style and conjures a feeling of 1001 Nights. A steward who lives on-site shows visitors the terrain. Here you can see the interior of the houses and from the towers of the city, have a magnificent view over the surroundings.
Msheireb Museum consists of a total of four historical theme houses built as museums in the old center of Doha near Souq Waqif, on historical grounds using relics of the houses. It opened in 2017. The exhibitions in the four houses were designed as an interactive, partially audiovisual tour. They provide a clear insight into the history and culture of Qatar and encourages a dialogue about its past and future.
Mohammed bin Jassim House:
The museum invites to a journey into the historical Msheireb area with its narrow streets and houses and its development up to the present time. Interviews with former residents of the area give interesting insight into the early life of this area.
Entering Mohammed bin Jassim House starts a journey into the history and architectural legacy of Doha City: It was originally built by Sheikh Mohammed bin Jassim Al Thani, the son of the founder of the modern state of Qatar.
The exhibition highlights today’s vision of the gigantic Msheireb Downtown Doha construction project: building a connection and a balance between the past and the future, taking into account a sustainable construction model based on historical experience. The aim is to take into account the legacy of the past, implementing today’s challenges and requirements for a modern city and a country with an eye set on the future.
The museum used to be the headquarter of the first oil company in Qatar, providing information about the lives of workers and families who, as pioneers of the oil industry, changed the country, thus founding and building today’s modern Qatari society.
Bin Jelmood House:
In this museum you can learn about the history of slavery in the countries around the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Gulf. A journey back in time shows how slavery has been part of the process of civilization for thousands of years. It also deals with the role of the Islam in this context. With this exhibition Msheireb Museum aims to contribute to the enlightenment and abolition of human exploitation and slavery. It is worth noting the openness with which this not entirely unproblematic chapter of the history of the country is presented.
Originally built in the 1920s, Radwani House is located in one of Doha’s oldest neighborhoods. The rebuilt historic house provides an insight into the past traditional life of a Qatari family and its cultural and social development and change after the discovery of oil and the beginning of the new “electric age”. Findings discovered during excavations in the center of the city give you an idea of what life in Doha was like a few decades ago.