Our long weekend visiting Qatar included exploring Souq Waqif and the National Museum of Qatar, in downtown Doha, as I shared in previous posts. In my research online ahead of our trip, I came across the Katara Cultural Village, a complex with restaurants, galleries, a couple of mosques open to visitors, performance venues and shopping. We were early to check in for our second hotel so we dropped off our bags and took a taxi to Katara for a few hours.
It wasn’t quite what I was expecting? I had envisioned almost a cultural historic village to explore (maybe a Middle Eastern Colonial Williamsburg?) but for the casual visitor on a Saturday morning, it’s not an obvious tourist attraction. It’s a sprawling complex, with no clear starting point.
We started at one of the mosques, the gorgeous tiled building above, which was designed by Turkish mosque designer, Zainab Fadil Oglu. Wil and Liam entered through the front, where an eager male guide greeted them. I was directed around to a side entrance for women. I removed my shoes and entered a small side room. A young woman in a robe was inside praying, her hair covered with a shayla, a long lightweight scarf wrapped around her head and pinned at her shoulder. She smiled and stood up, welcomed me, and somewhat flustered, informed me she was just a visitor herself but they’d asked her to assist any non-Muslims who came in. There was a rack of black robes, so she had me slip one on over my dress and gave me a black shayla to cover my head.
We chatted a bit about her faith before she led me, and another visitor, into the main prayer hall (Musalla). The guide was deep in conversation with Wil and Liam and included the rest of us in his remaining talk. He demonstrated the posture for praying, showed us a copy of the Koran, and highlighted basic Islamic theology. It was the first mosque we’ve been inside since moving to the Middle East, and I appreciated the kind and open welcome.
As we wandered through the quiet complex – very few people were around – we found a gallery featuring contemporary art by Middle Eastern artists (several of whom I now follow on Instagram) and a small traditional dhows museum, with realistic models of wooden boats for fishing and trade in the Arabian Gulf. The Arab Postal Stamps Museum displayed World Cup stamps from around the world and several decades. We walked into an outdoor amphitheater, startlingly white and sparse in its interior, and several large empty piazzas. It was all a bit…eerie? But beautiful.
The village is on the coast, and more large plazas stretched out to the water.
A second mosque on the property was golden. Actually golden, as in, covered with small gold square chips. It shimmered in the sun beating down.
We finished off our visit by wandering into a luxury department store and NOT buying anything. The taxi driver who drove us from the Hilton to the village had left Wil his phone number so we baked in the sun a little while longer while waiting for him to return to fetch us. I’m glad we visited and appreciated the low-key morning without crowds. Qatar is a country clearly embracing the arts and this entire development is a testament to that, by providing venues for performance and visual arts, not to mention spaces for instruction. It’s hard not to applaud that.
But enough with culture. We have a 13-year-old boy and the child was itching to jump into a hotel pool and splash in the Gulf. We enjoyed an afternoon and then a full-day just relaxing at the hotel, eating good food at the onsite restaurants, reading, swimming and being generally lazy.
Two days later, on the way to the airport, we had one more gift. As we passed the massive Amiri Diwan building, which is the government office of Qatar’s Amir, the Palace Guard went by on patrol, riding camels. Forgive my blurry pictures: I did my best to zoom in while we sat at a red light.
Qatar was a treat to visit and surprisingly different from Kuwait. The trip made me excited to explore other area countries while we are living in the Middle East. It’s a thrill to see places in-person which had previously only been names on one-dimensional maps. Spending even only a few brief days in a country means that place will never again be flat. Qatar will forever pop out to me in 3-D, populated by bagpipes, camels, exquisite architecture, mouth-watering meals and glittering mosques.
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