Qatar Tour Guide: National Museum

Qatar Tour Guide: National Museum Last updated on Saturday 24th April 2010

Situated on the Corniche in Doha, Qatar's National Museum has received a prize in the Aga Khan Awards scheme.

It is housed in the old Emiri Palace complex and has been restored in the traditional style of eastern Arabia. Its arched facades and beautifully painted wooden ceilings lend the building a graceful charm, especially at night when a clever use of spotlights accentuates its architectural appeal.

The museum consists of ten buildings which contain one of the Gulf's largest collections of ecological, ethnographic and archaeological material. This material is divided into sections, each of which deals with a specific aspect of history.

One section houses artifacts dating from the Paleolithic Age, about 200,000 years ago. Five rooms are dedicated to a display of traditional Bedouin lifestyle, showing how the tribe adapted to nomadic desert life, with examples of costumes, arts and crafts, utensils and tools.

An appeal, launched when the museum was founded, has resulted in a large number of donations and loans of exhibits by local families. This lends the museum a friendly ambience; it is obvious, even to a casual observer that this is a place which is very much about people. Its human touch makes it very popular with school parties during the week and with families on Fridays.

The Museum of State is a more modern building which stands nearby. Its clever design on three levels is sunk into the ground, to prevent it from obscuring the original museum complex. The museum's main collection is housed in this new building, and its various sections explore the country's physical geography, its geology and architectural finds. Video films and tapes are used to provide background descriptions of the material on display.

The marine section contains a below-ground aquarium, which houses a wide variety of fish, coral and shells. This section also tells the story of Qatar's traditional boat-building methods, together with the pearl-diving and fishing industry which formed such an important part of the country's economy before the discovery of oil. The museum's private lagoon contains six dhows, perhaps the last to be built in the traditional way before inboard engine power forced modifications of their basic structure.

The whole museum complex is of immense interest. To quote the judges at the time of the Aga Khan Award, it is: "a group of buildings...intimately linked with Qatar's history and traditions... the first in that field in this particular area of the Muslim world."

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