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Exploring the National Museum of Qatar

by Gillian Gibson

The National Museum of Qatar emerges from the Corniche in a dizzying array of interlocking sand coloured disks. Designed by renowned architect Jean Novel to resemble the blossoming crystals of the desert rose, the museum building is an architectural wonder. However, as phenomenal as the building is, it is only a single element of what astounds and amazes adults and children alike.

An immersive experience

With the help of innovative audio-visual techniques, interactive technologies, and the shape and layout of the building itself, the museum takes visitors on an immersive, educational journey through Qatar’s past, present and future. Imperceptible sloping floors lead you down and around the 1.5km museum circuit from beginning to end; curved interlocking walls of the disks create unpredictably shaped spaces and rooms; and enveloping floor-to-ceiling film projections, all give a sense of being part of a grand optical illusion. This feast for the senses breathes life into the traditional concept of a museum.

The galleries tell the story of Qatar from more than 700 million years ago to the present day, through three main chapters—Beginnings, Life in Qatar and The Modern History of Qatar. In the first chapter, visitors can explore the geology of Qatar, its natural environment, archaeological evidence of early life in Qatar. Artefacts, 3D sculptures, recorded testimonials, films and poetry take visitors through the second chapter, exploring how Qataris lived before the discovery of oil, following their journeys from the desert to the coast. In the final third chapter, visitors journey through history from the 1500s to modern-day Qatar, learning about the unification of the tribes, the fall of the pearling industry and the discovery of oil.

When you leave the last gallery, you emerge into the restored Emiri Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani. Initially built in the 1900s, this quiet and traditional space now sits amid a modern building and a modern city, which is, of course, the essence of the museum’s story.

Created with kids in mind

There are six educational areas specifically designed for families and kids. The family areas allow visitors to continue exploring the themes covered in the main galleries and provide an opportunity for kids to learn about conserving the environment, using resources wisely, teamwork and modern convenience, all through playful, hands-on, interactive activities and technologies.

  • The Natural Environment lets kids explore local flora and fauna and the environments in which they exist.
  • Archaeology allows children to try their hand at some virtual archaeology, using computer technology to dig and sweep around simulated artefacts.
  • People of Qatar teaches kids nomadic tracking and navigation skills.
  • Life in the Desert helps children to understand how difficult nomadic life was in the past and how challenging life can be without modern conveniences.
  • Life on the Coast allows kids to imagine working on a pearling boat, encouraging them to work together on activities such as rowing and pearl diving.
  • Energy Hub (yet to open) will take children into the present day to show them how integral energy is to the modern world.

The museum park

Adjacent to the Museum’s main entrance is an open area of gardens and grass. Picnic tables and benches, as well as bicycle racks, are available for visitors. Additional facilities, such as bathrooms, will be available in the Museum Park when it opens to the public in the autumn. The park will incorporate three educational and interactive playgrounds for kids to explore.

  • The Cave of Wonders will delight children with its glowing rocks, rock carvings, archaeological finds in the sand, and animal structures.
  • The Adventure Ship Playground is constructed like the wreck of a Qatari dhow. This play area offers kids the chance to discover the tricks and trades of the sea. They will discover more about sailing, pearling, fishing, trading and a host of other occupations.
  • The Oil Refinery Playground, takes children through the oil and gas industry, from crude oil extraction and processing to the finished products, as well as their uses in modern life.

Tours and events

The museum also offers tours, events, workshops, and clubs for 2019. Activities for adults include culture and book clubs, creative workshops, and monthly community events focussing on Qatari culture. There are also family-specific events hosted primarily in the two creative studio spaces.

  • Toddler Club (1–3 years), Monday mornings at 9am, takes little ones on an exploration of the world through colour, sound and sensory engagement.
  • Family Saturdays (4–10 years), 10am to noon, let kids uncover their creative side. Led by professional artists and designers, kids can develop their artistic abilities through various arts and crafts.
  • Teen Creative Labs (14–17 years), Friday evenings from 5 to 7pm, are practical workshops that allow teens to explore art, photography, writing, music and other media through the museum collections.

Dining and gifts

There are two cafés and one restaurant at the museum. The Desert Rose Café is located off of the central courtyard (Museum Baraha) on the ground floor. Serving light snacks and coffee, with indoor and outdoor seating, it is a perfect half-way point through the galleries to stop for refreshments and admire the impressive architecture of the building.

Visitors wishing to brush up on their knowledge of Qatar’s history, heritage and traditions while refuelling will enjoy Café 875, located on the mezzanine above the main lobby and adjacent to the Mohammed Jassim Al Khulaifi library.

Meanwhile, Jiwan is a rooftop restaurant located on the fourth floor of the building. Visitors may dine inside or outside on the restaurant terrace while enjoying stunning views of Doha.

Two beautifully designed gift shops are located in the main lobby—a general gift shop and a children’s gift shop. The main gift shop stocks items exclusive to the museum and designed by local artists and designers. The children’s gift shop offers an array of educational toys, books, puzzles and games, as well as gifts and souvenirs.

Location: The museum is located off of Museum Park Street, adjacent to Salata Park and directly overlooking the Corniche; between the old airport and the Museum of Islamic Art

Parking: There is a large car park available, with covered parking spaces, adjacent to the museum’s main entrance on Museum Park Street and underground car parking accessible via Al Meena Street

Hours: Saturday to Thursday 09:00–19:00, Friday 13:30–19:00. Last admission to the museum is 30 minutes before closing

Costs: Tickets are free of charge for Qatari nationals and residents presenting valid Qatar ID. General admission for non-Qataris and non-residents is QR 50 for adults, QR 25 for students, free for children under 16. Tickets are valid for three days from the date of the first admission

WIFI: WiFi is available within the museum

Toilet facilities: There are bathrooms throughout the museum complete with baby-changing facilities

Cloakroom: A cloakroom is available on the ground floor towards the back of the entrance lobby so that visitors may enjoy the museum’s sensory experiences hands-free
Prayer rooms: Male and female prayer rooms are located down a corridor behind the main lobby information desk

Accessibility: The museum provides disabled car parking spaces, lifts and wheelchair-accessible toilets. Lifts are available from the main entrance to the lobby. Approximately halfway through the galleries circuit, an accessibility lift is positioned adjacent to the stairs leading from the Life in Al Barr exhibition to the Life on the Coast exhibition. An additional accessibility lift is located at the end of the galleries circuit next to the exit to the Palace grounds. Visitors with mobility issues should take care on the gently sloping floors

The majority of the exhibits and displays are provided with gallery text, including braille descriptors in both English and Arabic; numerous exhibits and displays are multisensory; sound enhancement facilities are available for some audio presentations and talks; and, specially designed audio tours are provided for visually impaired guests

In the car park, golf carts are available to take visitors around the outside areas of the site and to the main entrance. For a VIP experience inside the museum, chauffeur-driven buggies can be requested

Contact: 4452-5555, nmoq.org.qa

Doha Family Tips

  • While the museum has a plethora of interactive activities for kids to engage with, there are many displays throughout the museum not designed with interaction in mind. However, many of those displays also happen to be the perfect height for kids to touch and climb. It is worth keeping an eye out for which displays are for playing on or not
  • The best time to visit the museum is during the week or early weekend mornings. The sensory experience, while still effective, loses some of its magnitude when the museum is crowded
  • Some tours, workshops, events, and clubs require pre-booking. Check the website for more information
  • If you are visiting the museum with out-of-town guests, they may want to consider purchasing a museum pass for QR 100, which provides admission to the National Museum of Qatar, the Museum of Islamic Art, and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. Tickets are valid for three days from the date of the first admission

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