Museum of Islamic Art Qatar

Museum of Islamic Art Doha: a masterpiece in the Arabian Gulf

In the blue-green waters of the Arabian (Persian) Gulf lies a hard-to-miss building on its island. Standing out with its geometric shapes and sandy color, the Museum of Islamic Art Qatar is truly one of Doha’s icons and a must-see even if you’re only on a short layover. Next to Souq Waqif, it was one of Doha’s landmarks that I was excited to see and explore when I was a newbie expat in this Gulf country. Thanks to my friend, I got to visit a few days after arriving in Qatar.

Museum of Islamic Art Qatar: an architectural masterpiece

museum of islamic art qatar west bay doha corniche

Designed by the renowned architect I.M. Pei, famous for his Louvre pyramid, there was something innately pleasing outside and inside the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) that satisfied my need for symmetry.

The Chinese-American architect was coaxed out of retirement to work on the four-year project. He was 91 at that time. How cool is that, eh?

Unveiled to the public in 2008, the stark silhouette of the museum makes it look like a fortress from a distance. It is said that Pei’s inspirations for the museum are historic fortresses and mosques around the Arab world.

museum of islamic art qatar at night

Looking like cubes formed into a pyramid, the limestone structure’s sandy colors stand out amidst Doha’s skyscrapers and the surrounding waters is even water in the inner courtyard, and along the stone stairs double-lined with palm trees. Which also leads you to the fountain in front of the geometric building.

Impressed by the solid exteriors with minimal windows, my jaw dropped at the more dramatic internal geometry. The atrium was built in a way that you have no other choice but to look up and marvel at the fusion of Modernist geometry and Islamic architecture.

Museum of Islamic Art Qatar Atrium dome

The entrance is parallel to the high glass windows giving a framed view of Doha’s skyline. At the pinnacle is the metal-clad geometric dome prevalent in Islamic architecture. While at the center of it all is the circular chandelier made of filigree metal. It looks like a halo supported by metal strings.

To get to the upper floors, one can take the elevators or the more dramatic white double staircase highlighted by the Islamic geometric pattern on the floor.

museum of islamic art qatar atrium stairs

Museum of Islamic Art Qatar: permanent galleries

Two floors are dedicated to the permanent collections of the museum. The masterpieces displayed span three continents and represent religious and secular Islamic art from the 7th to 19th century.

Visitors can see textiles, ceramics, enamel works, glass, manuscripts, books, metal works, carved woodworks, carpets, and scientific inventions.

museum of islamic art qatar ancient armor
museum of islamic art qatar ancient mask

The items are displayed with ample space between each artifact, highlighting each piece accordingly. Although some parts of the galleries can be quite dark at times, there is enough lighting to inspect every facet of each masterpiece. The glass cases seem to be non-reflective as well.

museum of islamic art qatar ancient jewelry
museum of islamic art qatar exhibit

Museum of Islamic Art Qatar: Treasures of China

Aside from the permanent collections on display, the 4th floor is where the Temporary Exhibitions are displayed while the Special Exhibitions Gallery is on the first level. One such exhibition was the “Treasures of China” displayed in the museum’s Special Exhibitions Gallery from September 6, 2016, to January 7, 2017.

The highlight of this exhibition was one of special interest to me. As an avid history lover, the famous Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin was one of the treasures of China that I used to see in documentaries. To see it in real life, in Doha of all places, was such a sweet surprise!

museum of islamic art qatar terracotta army
Emperor Qin’s Terracotta Army

The Mausoleum of the First Emperor Qin is one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the world. Together with the five clay soldiers (one of which is a horse), were more than a hundred other artifacts from the Neolithic age to the Qing dynasty of Ancient China.

Some of the items displayed are pottery, bronze sculptures gold and silver jewels, and enamel work. A few of these are imperial court art from the Forbidden City. These are brought to Qatar as part of a cultural exchange program with China.

museum of islamic art qatar treasures of china
multi-colored cups from the Qing Dynasty representing one month each

MIA Cafe and IDAM Restaurant

Facing the tall glass windows overlooking Doha’s skyline is the indoor cafe of the museum. The black and white theme is dominant in the furnishings, and the centerpiece is the black and gold fountain. Looking through the windows, visitors are rewarded with views of the city beyond the waters of the gulf.

The cafe offers a fusion of French and Arabic food based on the Healthy Food Initiative Programme.

museum of islamic art qatar cafe
MIA Cafe

On the 5th floor of the museum lies Chef Alain Ducasse’s first restaurant in the Middle East. Like MIA Cafe, IDAM serves French food with a touch of the influence of the Middle East albeit haute cuisine.

Both MIA Cafe and IDAM are designed by French designer and architect, Philippe Starck.

Museum of Islamic Art Park

museum of islamic art qatar MIA park

What makes the museum even more entertaining is the park adjacent to it. Dubbed as MIA Park, this green space overlooking the Persian Gulf and Doha skyline is a place where locals and expats frequently go to. The rows of palm trees lining the crescent-shaped area offer a bit of shade from the heat of the sun.

For families, there are playgrounds for different age groups of kids. There’s even a bungee trampoline which is popular with the older kids. Bicycles are also available for rent.

During the winter season, it is not unusual to see families and friends enjoying a picnic on the grounds of MIA Park.

Near the end of the park is MIA Park Cafe which offers a great view of the skyline while lounging on artsy chairs. The cafe offers drinks as well as snack foods like crepe, waffles, shawarma, sandwich, etc.

During Friday mornings, it is not unusual to see lots of people dancing Zumba in this area.

7 by Richard Serra

museum of islamic art qatar 7 by richard serra

At the harbor front of the C-shaped MIA Park extending into the gulf waters lies an 80-foot steel structure by American sculptor Richard Serra. Seven rusted steel plates that form a heptagon when viewers look up, which celebrates the importance of the number seven in Islam.

Inspired by a minaret in Afghanistan, this structure is Serra’s tallest work up to date.

The beams have openings where visitors can enter. At night, it is quite eerie especially since the inside is not lighted up.

Museum of Islamic Art Park Bazaar

An open-air market every Friday and Saturday during the winter season is held at the park in front of the museum. Stalls operated by locals and expats sell handicrafts, accessories, paintings, clothing, food, jewelry, photography, and artworks.

Museum of Islamic Art Qatar Info

museum of islamic art qatar islamic art

How to get to MIA from Hamad International Airport

If you don’t have a rental car, you can take the taxi or Uber from the airport. It is around 15 minutes drive.

Google Maps location

Museum Of Islamic Art Qatar Opening Times

  • Saturday–Thursday: 9am–7pm
  • Fridays: 1.30–7pm
  • Tuesday – CLOSED
  • Free Entrance for QID holders
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Free Guided Tours – English language tours: Sundays and Thursdays at 12pm; Arabic language tours: Tuesdays at 12pm
  • Dress code: Conservative
  • Other available facilities: reception/information booth, prayer room, cloakroom, gift shop, ATM, auditorium, library, and education center
  • Photography rules: no flash photography or tripods in the galleries

MIA Cafe operating hours

  • same as museum

MIA PARK

  • Operating hours: open 24 hours
  • Prohibited activities: Swimming, fishing, BBQ, animals, open fires, dangerous activities, smoking in café seating areas, littering
  • Dress code: Conservative

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Darlene is currently on the road again and traveling full-time after being an expat/overseas Filipino worker in Qatar. She's rediscovering what it means to travel solo and in her 30s while working on her blogs.

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