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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Sheikh Faisal's Museum in Qatar

We were thinking where to go for the weekend and Kris invited us to accompany him to Sheikh Faisal’s farmhouse. That’s the place where Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al-Thani has his private museum. Yes, a private museum! We had to drive 30 minutes from Doha to reach the farmhouse. We went out of Doha along Al Rayyan Road, past the Qtel tower. After passing the Al Rayyan Football Stadium, we saw a sign to the museum. We passed until an opening in the road and then took a U-turn. There’s a long driveway up to the estate, where a security guard greeted us.



For several years, Qatar, nicknamed as ‘The Thumb of Arabia’, has been looking out for treasures across the world, picking up what it wanted, when it wanted, by spending billions of dollars. This included the Jenkins Venus by spending a whopping £7,926,650, the highest price ever paid at any auction for a single antiquity. This restored marble statue from circa the 1st or 2nd century AD, also known as the Barberini Venus, was bought in 2002 by Sheik Saud Al-Thani. It had previously been part of the collection of Newby Hall, in Ripon, Yorkshire. As a result of this spending spree, Qatar has amassed a huge array of treasures, collecting everything from Fauberge eggs to classic cars.




Sheikh Faisal is great great grandson of Jassim, who defeated the Ottomans in battle in his 80s and is regarded by some as the founder of Qatar. The Sheikh is cousin of the Emir. He is a high profile and very successful businessman, and among numerous other enterprises owns the City Centre Mall in West Bay, the second largest and busiest shopping mall in Qatar, next only to Villagio, and reputed to be the eighth biggest in the world. He is one of the biggest private antiques and arts collectors. He inherited the treasure stove of antiquities from his father Sheikh Qassim Bin Faisal Al-Thani.


Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al-Thani was born in 1948 in Doha and started collecting antiques since the 1960s and his museum has over 30,000 exhibits, all beautifully presented. The first museum building was built by Sheikh Faisal on the premises of his farm, located in Al-Samariyah, 22 km from Doha. The building style is typical of traditional Qatari architecture, with turrets at each corner and was constructed using local Samariyah stone. It was opened to the public in 2002.

He started collecting antiques while travelling to many countries and worldwide to find the most unique coins dating from the Omayyad Dynasty to the beginning of the 20th century, books, ceramics, jewellery, ancient Islamic manuscripts, major archaeological findings, metal objects, textiles, carpets originating from all over Arabia, from Morocco to Persia and the Caucasus, embroidery and antique furniture and many other objects related to different centuries and cultures.







When foreigners visit a country, it is the people’s culture that they want to discover and Sheikh Faisal’s museum gives foreigners an idea of Qatari culture. The Qatar heritage is one of the key displays in the museum reflecting the continuing evolution of Qatar and gives a very good understanding of where Qataris have all come from and how they have arrived at where they are today. The Qatari Heritage collection is replete with objects which are important components of Qatari history -- from things that describe Bedouin way of life, fishing devices and Qatari dhows.







One should see a Mughal dagger with a silver inlaid steel hilt, a Mughal gold inlaid spear used by the sultan guards, two Mughal metal axes with gold inlay, used by the dervish, a Mughal Katar dagger, a Mughal inlaid marshal stick, a Mughal foot dagger, a Mughal silver plated dagger and a Dervish axe from India, a late Safavid finial (Al Amdar), inlaid with two small animal figures, all Safavid gold inlaid helmet from Iran, with Kufic calligraphy and Islamic design, two iron maces, representing two shapes of devil from Iran, used in general for ‘Achoura ceremonies, all from Iran, powder pistols with gold and silver inlay, Ottoman inlaid pistols, North African and Moroccan powder guns with ivory and silver inlay, a Southern Iraqi dagger with a gold inlaid silver scabbard, a South Asian dagger with a wood scabbard, with mother of pearl inlay from Indonesia and many more to know the vastness of the collection.



The connecting hall led us to a beautiful portion which had wooden works. An engraved wooden door with Arabic inscriptions from Oman, wooden chests painted with vegetable dyes, from Morocco and Algeria, a wooden door from Saudi Arabia, an Ottoman chest with mother of pearl inlay, fixed with silver silks, a wooden pedestal table with arabesques and Arabic calligraphy and shell inlay, an engraved wooden spoon used for yoghourts, wooden corner shelf decorated with arabesques, a Qajar papier mâché paint box, a papier mâché gun powder pot with calligraphy, an engraved wooden jar with Arabic calligraphy from India, a stone panel with arabesque design from Syria, and other wooden articles just left us mesmerised.










There is also a comprehensive and fascinating collection of historic cars, including a 19th century steam vehicle. It also includes motorcycles, bikes, trucks and old registration plates. All the vehicles have their own individual story, whether they are part of the Qatari heritage or have been collected by Sheikh Faisal during his travels around the world. The museum also houses the celebrated Williams FW27 Grand Prix Racing Car–2005. This pride vehicle of the museum was brought by none other than Sir Frank Williams, the legendary owner of Willams F1. Introduced at the outset of the 2005 season, the Williams FW27 was the first car to benefit from the team’s commissioned second wind tunnel, a facility capable of full size car testing. Featuring a BMW P84/85 V10 3.0 litre engine, the car is the last Williams model powered by a BMW engine. Mark Webber, Nick Heidfeld and Antonio Pizzonia drove this legendary car in the 2005 season. A Ford T model 1915, a Ford T model 1924, used as an ambulance, a Ford TT26 model 1926, a Silver Chevrolet model 1929, a Chevrolet Pick Up model 1946, A Baby Ford, model from the 40s, Desoto Model 1948, a black Buick model 1951, a Mercedes Benz 180 saloon model 1958, a Dodge Power Wagon model 1957, besides bikes and cycles will just woo the visitors.





The museum also holds a compelling narrative of the history of Islam, conveyed through the evolution of the region’s silver and gold coins which have been beautifully preserved and presented. The currency collection comprises both pre-Islamic pieces, some of which were the first coins ever produced, and Islamic coins ranging from the Omayyads to the Ottomans. The coins vary from Perikle dynasty, Babylon, Kingdom of Macedonia, Achaemenid Empire, Kingdom of Tyre, Islands of Caria, Ptolemaic dynasty, Seleucid Empire, Roman Empire, Parthian Empire, Byzantine Empire to Sassanid Empire in metals such as gold, silver, copper and bronze. Also on display are banknotes from around the world and other objects used as currency in African, South American, Asian and Oceanian civilisations -- an Indian rupee bank-note of Rs 1,000 with the portrait of George VI, a Palestinian pound with the picture of of Al-Qsa, a banknote of 5 rupees issued by the Government of Zanzibar, a banknote from the Maldives Islands written in Arabic, a Franco – Algerian banknote of 5 francs, etc.










There are fossils at the museum which includes dinosaur eggs, rare and strange minerals collected from the desert fossil of a dinosaur embedded in a skeleton. There’s also a library of about 12,000 books and manuscripts. It also has a vast collection of Quran manuscripts and calligraphy material. A Quran manuscript in Mullai Calligraphy, an Arabic panel with calligraphy Thulth in the shape of a lion, using Lapiz ink, by Ahmad Al-Shriazy, a manuscript page with Nuskh calligraphy, an Arabic calligraphy panel (Thulth), by Badawi, dated 1345 HD, a miniature from Shahnameh by Sayed Riza Shirazi al Husseini and others.



How can one miss chandeliers and lamps and glass articles in such a collection? And lo, we were taken to the room where they were preserved. Glass lamps, chandeliers, Abbasid pottery and glass ewers, an Abbasid pottery medical flask with Arabic calligraphy, ceramic ewers with Arabic inscriptions, an Abbasid ceramic bowl designed with a group of peacocks, a ceramic bowl with a picture of Yusuf and Zalaikha, Seljuq dynasty in Iran (11th century), Abbasid, Moorish and Ummayyad ceramic bowls, jars, pottery and plates with Arabic inscriptions, bronze and copper ewers, pots and bowls, silver inlaid bronze trays with Arabic calligraphy and inscriptions, silver inlaid bronze and silver incense burners with Arabic calligraphy, a bronze church incense burner, an Ottoman coffee pot inlaid with coral and turquoise, Safavid ceramic panels with pictures of musicians, another one representing the story of King Salomon, a ceramic panel representing King Bahram of Persia (1150 H.D.), a ceramic piece, used as a lid for honeycombs in Iran, a glass mosque lamp decorated with calligraphy, signed by the French glass producer Brocard, a Seljuq bronze chandelier with pictures and Arabic calligraphy, were only some among the huge collections of the Sheikh.

One should and will never miss to have a glimpse of carpets and rugs collected here. One can see them spread all over the building plus some rare one are also on display such as a Faraghan wool rug with Persian inscriptions, lower (Ravar) rug, with pictures of Persian kings and queens, an Ottoman “Pendarma” rug with the picture of a bank-note of 10 piasters, a Raver rug telling the story of Abraham with his son Ismail, a Polonaise carpet, a Sarouk rug, a Senneh rug, etc.
 
In between we saw some beautiful paintings adorning the walls of the museum. A closer look at them made us to just nod our heads with appreciation. Orientalist oil paintings on canvas representing an Egyptian, a Turkish soldier in Algeria, a Nubian young woman, an Arab from North Africa, an old painting representing the story of Abraham and Ismail and an orientalist oil painting on leather were a few among them. Interestingly, the museum has two deep wells and there’s water in them!

The Sheikh’s collection is not limited to Islam alone. He has gone a step ahead and collected materials related to other religions as well. A separate room houses a silver church goblet, a Tigrinid Bible in leather manuscript with Guizzi alphabet, an oil painting on the canvas in which the Christ is carrying his cross are just among a few items the museum preserves.




At the end, we were only left with the chamber which had jewellery and clothes from different cultures and countries. A woman silk embroidered caftan, an embroidered Turcoman wool vest, an Ottoman silk embroidery, a silver and silk threads abbaya, an Ottoman woman pair of trousers, a curtain of Al-Manara door decorated with calligraphy embroidered with silver threads, with the Tugra of sultan Mahmoud, an Ottoman child vest embroidered with silver threads inlaid with turquoise, a leather Egypto – Circasian vest, embroidered with silver thread and a silver head cover inlaid with Yemenite agate were a few among them. The unique styles of jewellery throw light on different cultures in the Islamic countries as well as other parts of the world. Which woman would not crave for owning such a piece after seeing different glittering ornaments? Necklaces and pendants made from gold, silver, coral, stone, amber, women’s silver belts, silver Duaa pendants, a silver Quran box pendant and others made us to appreciate the workmanship which had given such wonderful jewels.

 
Though the collection looks simple and modest, it provides useful information in terms of historical facts, as well as answers to the questions of interested people. In addition to this large museum, the estate also has a variety of animals and game, including the rare oryx.


In September 2002, the museum became a member of (ICOM) International Council of Museums – UNESCO.

The museum is open to the public from 9 am to 6 pm, although a permit should be obtained before visiting. It is open most of the year but is shut from July 1 to August 31.

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