Al Thakira Museum is a real gem. Few people know about it and it is easy to miss. Yet it is maybe the most authentic of the museums in Qatar that focus on heritage. It is a fantastic place to learn about life in Qatar in the past. It features all kinds of unique artifacts from days long or not so long ago. A very interesting feature of the museum is its architecture. It is a fine example of the traditional Qatari way of house construction. The different buildings are made with traditional materials and they are built around a central courtyard, giving it a remarkable serene athmosphere.
History of Al Thakira Museum
In contrast to most other museums in Qatar, Al Thakira museum is a purely private project. The owner’s and founder’s name is Mr. Khalid. However, most people in Al Thakira fondly call him Abu el He’dan (Bu’lhedan). It was more than ten years ago, that Khalid started this project. He was very strict in building in the traditional Qatari architectural style and in using traditional materials. Khalid used mainly limestone, dolomite, gypsum, mud, wood, palm-fronds and jute. Not an ounce of concrete and not an inch of iron bar was used.
When Khalid began, people predicted that his buildings would collapse within two years. But he kept his self confidence and never gave up. It took him almost 10 years to single handedly complete the building. At present only the rooms on the ground-floor are in use. In the future three or four more rooms on the first floor will be ready. By then the museum will have a total of 13 rooms plus the courtyard, each exhibiting the most amazing collections. Khalid’s main goal was to share Qatar’s history with younger generations.
Unique treasures of Al Thakira Museum
Almost all exhibits relate to life in Qatar through the 40s, 50s and 60s of the 20th century. The owner of Al Thakira Museum grouped the topics into a total of 10 rooms. You best explore these rooms in the following order:
This room was and is the most important room for social occasions. It is here that hosts entertained their guests and that important family matters were discussed. The room has a u-shape line of pillows and cushions along the walls. Thus, up to 20 people can easily sit here. The center of the room has thick and colorful handmade wool-carpets. A large number of rifles, swords, old pictures, and traditional mirrors with motifs adorn the walls. The purpose of the room was communication.
Very interesting is the huge number of old tube and transistor radios, accompanied by old telephones from the 50s. And finally you will notice the vinyl record players with large stacks of traditional Qatari music records. Be sure to ask Khalid or one of his sons to put on a record to enjoy, while you are spending time here. The music will take you back in time to the Qatar of the 50’s/60’s.
You will notice images of peacocks on many mirrors and pictures. According to popular belief, they reflect the presence of good and protect the house. Therefore peacocks were a common sight in many Qatari houses. In small recesses you can see a collection of incense burners, in Arabic called Mabkhara. Lined up behind the burners are several flag-shaped hand fans. They are made from woven palm leaves and go by the name Mahafa.
2. Hospitality room
Directly adjacent to the Majlis you will find a small room displaying utensils to make drinks. This includes the iconic Arabic coffee pots called Dallah, with their crescent-shaped spouts. They come in many shapes, feature intricate decorations, and are mostly made from brass, but sometimes in silver. Next to the Dallahs you will see many cups in different shapes and designs and other utensils needed to prepare hot beverages.
3. Bedroom and wardrobe
This small room is packed with textiles for many different occasions in all kinds of colors and shapes. While the totally crammed space might be overwhelming at first, it is worth your time. In this room you can find a few valuable abayas and robes from the 50s and 60s. They have embroidery of real silver and gold thread, making them extremely valuable. Khalid will be happy to let you dress up up in some of the historic clothes, just ask politely and promise to be careful and treat them with respect.
Besides the clothes you can find some beauty accessories and make-up. For example the famous Battoulah, a facial mask. Women would apply indigo on the inside of the mask to whiten their skin and cover their face. In some of the make-up flasks you will find lipstick or kohl eye-liner made from charcoal and other substances.
This room has a special historic value for Qatar. Its collection of rare books and manuscripts that includes the first ever published school-books printed in Qatar, is unique. Once again, Khalid will happily explain and show the extraordinary copies in detail. In case you have an interest in genealogy, ask for Khaled’s large family tree, he will be happy to explain it to you. A set of old Qatari license-plates completes the exhibits. From this room a passage will lead to an adjacent room focusing on a mix of exhibits. For ease of orientation we call it “desert rose room”.
5. Desert rose room
Here you can find a rather wild mix of exhibits that do not fit well into any other group. Old cameras, watches and jewelry fill one glass cabinet. Even though none of them is of a particular material value today, they show very well people’s taste back in the 60s. Another cabinet displays cosmetics and rare perfumes. For example a tiny corked bottle of Oud oil. For 60 years the bottle remained closed, yet still gives off an amazing scent. Right next to the Oud rests the musk gland of a musk deer, called al Misk in Arabic. This is one of the rarest and most precious animal products. It was used to make perfume. Due to animal protection efforts, companies produce the substance artificially today. Also combs and beauty tools of bone and a real stuffed lion’s foot are on exhibition here.
6. Kids play room
In many ways, this room reminded us of our own childhood. On shelfs you can find a number of historic soda bottles and enamel signs. Most of the brands are only a memory from the past, but some still exist in Qatar today. Toys and makeshift toys cover the floor all over. We loved the “old-wheel-with-stick toy” with an old bicycle wheel and a bent metal rod.
7. Pearl-diving room
Here you can dive into an important part of Qatar’s history – Pearl diving. Before the advent of oil and gas, pearls were the main source of income in Qatar for many years. The room is narrow and full of old pictures, maps and all kinds of tools related to the pearl trade. One of the people on the pictures is Khalid’s father,who was a pearl-diver. Thus the subject is very close to Khalid’s heart.
Only on close inspection of the maps did we realize how complex the search for pearls used to be in the old days. Hundreds of marks dot the maps, each defining a pearling area. You will see that they are all around the gulf. Getting to all these places required being out on the sea for many weeks. This resulted in many of the divers and skippers losing their eyesight. Spend some time here with Khalid and try to get a feel for this hard trade. Finally, watch the pearls in all stages of development, some in their shells.
8. Furniture & boat-making
Here we can witness the role of boats in Qatar’s past. With the sea surrounding Qatar on three sides and the huge Saudi desert in the south, boats were vital for people’s survival in the past. Almost all foods and tools came in by boat from as far as India. Furthermore, pearl-diving would have never been possible without the skill and knowledge to build boats. The room displays many tools that can be used in the making of boats. You best visit this room with a guide to explain the tools and their use. Once again Khalid knows a lot about the details. – because there are not many trees in the gulf, wood was a precious material. Thus, many of the tools are designed to waste as little wood as possible.
9. Kitchen & outdoor kitchen
The outdoor kitchen is used for cooking on open fire. A large number of pots stand around the fire-pit – they show signs from years of heavy use. Staple food used to be stored on high shelves to keep cats, rodents and other animals away. You can see this on the left hand side. Practically all food had to be prepared from scratch, as there were no means of preserving it. Therefore the indoor kitchen is stuffed with containers to store many different ingredients.
10. Kids tricycles and pedal cars
On the first floor, only one room has any exhibits. To this day, they stand around as if they were left by the kids who used them before. All of these toys are a great reminder of an era, when we all used to play using only our muscles and imagination.
11. Courtyard with well
Just like in a traditional Qatari house, the courtyard connecting all buildings and rooms was a common area for the family. Here the kids played, the women prepared food and the men repaired tools and equipment. If you want to experience the place like people did in the past, try walking around this place barefoot. Millions of small shells will gently massage your foot. The well is a reminder of the difficulty to find freshwater in Qatar. Having a well inside the house, was a luxury that only few could afford. Nowadays almost all wells in the country are deserted, filled or became salty.
How to visit Al Thakira Museum
The museum does not have any regular opening hours. In order to visit, you will have to contact Khalid or his sons directly. In general, afternoons or evenings are most convenient for the owner of the Al Thakira Museum. One way is to connect with his Instagram channel and write him a direct message. If you do not use Instagram, drop us an email and we will forward your request. Plan a few days ahead to make sure, that Khalid or his sons are available. If you prefer to discover the place in a group, we can highly recommend to join our friends of Embrace Doha on one of their regular trips.
How to get to Al Thakira Museum
- Drive to Al Khor on the Al-Khor Road and continue to Al Thakira.
- At the first roundabout in Al Thakira turn right.
- At the third street turn left. Al Thakira Museum will be the first building, directly on the next corner on the left hand side. Look for the walls made from stones and mud and the traditional looking buildings. Park somewhere next to the wooden gate.
Alternatively add the following coordinates to your GPS: 25.729136, 51.542074, or use Google Maps