Doha has successfully morphed from dull desert outpost to tourist destination. Though, the speed of growth has inevitably led to moments of frustration for visitors (and Time Out Doha) in the form of fruitless cab hunting and places of interest suddenly boarding up their doors for renovation. So it’s not surprising to hear some tourists whining that Doha is ‘dull’ or ‘boring’.
Nonetheless, there’s a pretty good reason why the New York Times recently described the city as ‘cultural destination of the year’. More and more people are visiting the capital thanks to its newly acquired status as a global art hot spot, creating (what we like to call) a new breed of ‘art tourist’. The Museum of Islamic Art is the shining proof, drawing culture vultures from around the globe to gawp at the priceless collection of Islamic treasures housed inside.
It appears the world has become seduced by Islamic art, and this was not lost on auction house Sotheby’s, which held a first-ever auction of Islamic art in Doha in March, fetching a mind boggling US$18,001,725. Much of this art explosion is thanks to the painstaking work of Qatar’s Al-Thani royal family, which not only amassed the world’s most enviable art collection during the ’90s, but forged ahead to create a progressive dialogue between the Arab world and the West through the global appreciation of Islamic art.
‘There is a big misconception about what Islam is,’ the Emir’s daughter, Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, pointed out in a recent interview with an American magazine. ‘Originally, Islam was a culture. It wasn’t just a religion.’ Thanks to the clued-up ruling family, who have single-handedly cultivated Qatar’s cultural rebirth, other tourist attractions around the diminutive capital are being pushed into the spotlight. Big changes are afoot at many of the cultural sights, like the Qatar National Museum, which is currently undergoing renovations to spruce up facilities. There are also a few rumours circulating around the traps about new and exciting projects set to open in the next couple of years, like the Museum of Modern Arab Art designed by New York-based architect Rafael Viñoly (the artist’s impressions of the building make it look like a gigantic, artificial sand dune).
In the meantime, tourists on the hunt for art and time-honoured Qatari culture will have more than enough to keep them busy with the Museum of Islamic Art, the alleyway stalls of Souk Waqif selling authentic (and not-so-authentic) antiques and traditional dhows on the harbour, all offering a glimpse into the region’s rich heritage. Another must-see for culture savvy visitors is the Third Line , a gallery in the Waqif Art Centre which exhibits artists from the region. It seems, Doha isn’t so boring after all.