Friday, February 7, 2014

Sheikh Faisal's Museum: Not in Kansas Anymore

Dawn, Samantha, Eva, Mary Anne, Lynnette
 
This week - an escorted peek into the vast and diverse assortment of treasures lining the walls, dotting windows and shelves, inside nooks, around corners and behind doors at the Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim al Thani Museum, Qatar:
 
poster on display at Sheikh Faisal's place
yes, really
 
Qatar has museums: the Museum of Islamic Art, Arab Museum of Modern Art (Mathaf), Alriwaq (currently exhibiting the controversial work of artist Damien Hirst), Qatar National Museum (under construction).
 
And Qatar has National Treasures: Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani and his castle sized, floor to ceiling, fantastically diverse, nationally renowned museum of eclectic wonderment.
 
Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum
housed in an old fort just outside Doha, Qatar
 
It started as an assortment of the sheikh's personal and family memorabilia: the desk he used as a child, his crayon masterpieces, watches, money, prayer beads, mom's ancient washing machine, an old mouse trap. Today it's an ever expanding 17,000 piece, personally assembled collection of treasures from countries, cultures and religions all around the world - but especially Qatar.
 
museum entry hall
 
Guns, knives, furniture, photographs, documents under glass. Paintings, statues, gowns, robes, headdresses, carpet, teeny tiny Korans. An actual Syrian house with marble floors, carved and painted walls, lanterns, plus outdoor majlis and (interior) winter room. A family's desert tent, minaret, pearling dhows - and an honest-to-goodness well, dug deep into the earth to demonstrate how difficult it was for early Qataris to acquire water.
 
The sheikh's museum bursts with halls stuffed with ancient plain and ornate Middle Eastern style doors.  Rooms overflow with mirrors. There are swords and guns in the windows. Glass cases packed with precious mother of pearl items, old currency, other-era shoes. An airplane hangs from a ceiling above a model of a desert camp. There is a reconstructed Qatari home, a family wedding display, traditional clothing.
 
plane, cars, camp, dhows, minaret and more
 
But that's not all. There are fossils, dinosaur bones and eggs, a monster's relic skull and teeth encased in rock. A flamingo skeleton, shark teeth, smooth obsidian, desert roses. Limousines. Tiny trucks for little sheikhs.
 
Samantha with tiny truck
 
And vintage cars. Hundreds - literally hundreds - of cars.
 
purportedly Sheikh Faisal's sons take the cars
(any/all/whichever they want) out on Fridays
 
Of course automobiles didn't come to Qatar until oil, the Brits and roads arrived in the 1940s-ish. And Sheikh Faisal's collection is not limited to one era, decade, culture or even a single religion. There is a room full of Jewish memorabilia, another which highlights Christianity and includes an old confession booth. A third space features artwork from other religions.
 
The collection is currently organized according to the sheikh's interests and travels and displayed by acquisition date - which (even with the homey, hospitable carpets placed throughout) means it's impossible to absorb everything in a single visit. Or, well…ever. Unless you're particularly knowledgeable about history, that is…since there are few labels or other expositional materials available.
 
Fortunately, Sheikh Faisal is a forward thinking kind of guy and recently hired an interesting, knowledgeable historian with an internal database that includes analyses of the Ottoman Empire, Muslim brotherhood, history of the pyramids and world architecture plus Ford (the car) and Dorothy (of the ruby red shoes). Who answers questions about money in good humor: "the sheikh does not reveal an item's cost because (his workers) would want more money!"
 
Samantha, Dawn, Eva,
Nabil the Knowledgeable Historian
 
This knowledgeable historian's mission is to catalogue and organize artifacts, ie, identify, designate, tally, tag, classify, label and otherwise notate displays. Also on the horizon: a bookstore, museum guidebook, expanded website and personal tours. Huzzah!
 
Bring your walking shoes.  You're not in Kansas anymore!

 Factoids:
  • Qataris arrived approximately 1850 from Saudi Arabia in search of pearls.
  • There are nine original tribes in Qatar.
  • In Qatar, sheikh and sheikha are titles bestowed upon members of the royal family.
  • One should stand when a sheikh or sheikha enters the room, regardless of age.


 
Nabil the Knowledgeable Historian,
Eva, Dawn, Mary Anne, Samantha, Lynnette
 
 Sheikh Faisal's Museum is about 30 minutes outside Doha, across the road-under-construction from Shehaniyya and the camel race track. Visits are by appointment only.
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