Postcard from Doha

I’m recently back from a trip to the Arabian Gulf, something of a sentimental journey even though I knew it was likely to be bitter-sweet.

I haven’t been back to Doha, the capital of Qatar, since we left in 1989 so knew there would be plenty of change – especially as in the interim it became the richest country in the world! Just how big those changes have been left me speechless. A few landmarks still exist from my day, but not many. The administration area has moved across to West Bay, where previously the Sheraton Hotel stood in isolated splendour. That building is now dwarfed by skyscrapers, many architecturally distinctive.

Back then, the Vege Grower had to go on ahead of me and get his residency established before I could apply for an entry visa. When I arrived in February 1985 the plane taxied to near the terminal and passengers descended by a set of stairs and walked across the tarmac. My visa paperwork was waiting on a table and I had to shuffle through the pile, find mine and take it to the immigration officer.

Thirty years later we disembarked at a new airport via an airbridge and emerged into a large, modern terminal. We lined up and the young Qatari man simply checked our passports and stamped our visa in, no paperwork needed. We told him the years we had lived in Doha – he was astounded as he had been born in 1994!

Sheikh Khalifa was emir in 1985, his son Sheikh Hamad (who was the heir apparent) took over in 1995 and in turn stepped aside for his son Sheikh Tamim in 2013. Read a list of the emirs here. The reason you may have heard of Qatar is that the country is hosting, amid much controversy, the soccer world cup in 2022. Fifa announced this week that games would be played in November and December to try and have conditions as cool as possible.

I’ll post more about Doha and Qatar over the next little while, but one of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the Museum of Islamic Art, built on reclaimed land beside the Corniche, and designed by I.M Pei (he designed the glass pyramids at The Louvre; I read he was dragged out of retirement for the Doha job). I’m not sure why, but images on the MIA website link above start halfway down my screen.

Here are a few photos of some of the many amazing objects in the museum, these  incorporating plants in the design. Read more about carnations and Iznik pottery here or go to the V&A site for a teachers’ resource: Exploring plant-based design through the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art.

Botanical detail from a long-necked water bottle ca 1570-1580, Iznik pottery, Turkey. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A 17th century cushion cover from Turkey, with a pattern of stylised carnations. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Carnations and other flowers on an Iznik plate. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And, finally, a 20th century piece – calligraphy in gold on a real leaf. The artist wasn’t named, but the art was made in Turkey. Photo: Sandra Simpson