Driving west of the city into the desert, I often passed a sign to 'Sheikh Faisal's Museum' on the way to Al-Samriya where you can ride Arabian ponies on the date farm, but it's only last month that a school holiday 'staycation' allowed enough time to visit. The museum has something of a legendary status among expats - it has, it's said, something for everyone. Islamic antiquities? A collection of dazzling quality and depth. Sports cars? Everything from some of the earliest cars in the region to a Formula 1 racer. From fossils to Crusader arrow heads, a passable homage to the 'Bar at the Folies-Bergere', Sufi drums, muskets, swords, butterflies, priceless carpets, calligraphy, furniture inlaid with mother of pearl, and an entire Syrian palace room rebuilt next to displays of dhows and aeroplanes. Among other distinctions it is the world's largest private collection of armory.
Sheikh Faisal generously opened his private collection of 15,000 objects from four continents to the public in 1998, and shared treasures amassed over 55 years of collecting. I was particularly interested and touched to see rooms devoted to other cultures and religions. As a collector of Islamic antiquities the Sheikh clearly has a marvellous eye, and the huge collection has been housed in a purpose built desert fort, constructed along traditional Qatari designs.
After leaving university, my first job was as an art consultant, curating Orientalist and contemporary Arab art for collections destined for palaces and embassies - and this collection has something unique, I think. It feels organic - like each piece has been chosen with love, and there is a joyous quality to it. I was also surprised by the colour - living here you grow used to the bleached tones of sand, sky, sea, and grow thirsty for colour. I loved the exuberance of the carpets and textiles.
The museum is both a noble, philanthropic gesture to preserve and share the region's history at a time when it is hurtling towards the future and developing rapidly, and the extraordinarily rich private collection of a man with a great eye for beauty. If you ever visit Doha, a visit will be the highlight of your trip - in the meantime, I hope you enjoy and are inspired by a short virtual tour. Here are a few of my favourite things:
A traditional Qatari interior
Crusader arrow heads
Prince Ali Rida of Lorestan
If you are in Doha, you can call to arrange an appointment to see the collection. Entry is free, and there is no cafe or shop so pack plenty of water for the trip to the desert. Allow at least half a day for your visit. Further details: http://www.fbqmuseum.org/index.php/about-us.html