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Cultural riches: museums of the Middle East

The opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi has brought the Middle East’s cultural side into sharp focus. Andrew Doherty rounds up museums to recommend to clients visiting the region

Al-Jahili Fort in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi
Al-Jahili Fort in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi

As the Louvre Abu Dhabi shines a cultural light on the Middle East, we round up the big-hitting and alternative musuems to recommend to your clients

Abu Dhabi

Louvre Abu Dhabi

As the first Louvre to open outside France, art lovers will be making a beeline for the Abu Dhabi branch of this cultural institution, which houses more than 600 permanent displays across 23 galleries.


Clients can also view 300 paintings by artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Monet and Van Gogh on loan from key French institutions.

The latest exhibition, running until June 2, 2018, is Globes: Visions of the World, which guides guests through 2,500 years of human civilisation.


Al-Jahili Fort
This fort, set in Al Ain, is free to access and was built in 1891 to defend the city and its palm groves.


Clients can explore a permanent display, Mubarak Bin London; Wilfred Thesiger and the Freedom of the Desert, a photograph collection of the English explorer Wilfred Thesiger depicting nomadic life and adventures in the Middle East.


Furthermore, visitors can expect a programme of live events that run throughout the year, from equestrian shows to musical performances.


Book it: Kuoni has three nights at the Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri with Heathrow flights from £635pp. Package is based on May 2018 departures.




Jordan Archaeological Museum
This museum offers visitors to Amman an Indiana Jones-style experience, with artefacts on display that date back to the palaeolithic period when humans first started using stone tools.


Visitors will also find the Dead Sea bronze scroll and the sculptures from 6000BC made in the Neolithic period before pottery was invented.


Tiraz: Widad Kawar Home for Arab Dress
Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat, managing director of the Jordan Tourism Board, recommends clients visit this attraction, near Amman’s Roman theatre. More than 2,000 Jordanian and Palestinian costumes are on display, from silk dresses adorned with jewels to protective amulets and talismans.


Clients can also join handicraft workshops led by local and expert artisans that will teach them how to make the traditional outfits.


Book it: Cox & Kings has the Splendors of Jordan tour from £1,495pp, which can be tailor-made to include more free time in Amman.



Museum of Islamic Art
The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha is seen as the jewel in the crown of the nation’s historical attractions, housing 14 centuries of fine art and rare artefacts.


The latest exhibition, Powder and Damask: Islamic Arms and Armour from the collection of Fadel Al-Mansoori, Ain Ghazal Statues – lime and reed The Ain Ghazal statues at the Jordan Archaeological Museum showcases swords, 17th-century pistols and ornamental shields gifted to the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires. The display is open until May 12, 2018.


National Museum of Qatar
Due to open in December, the museum will showcase the methods behind construction of the nation’s traditional dhow sailing boats using laser scanning and three-dimensional digital models.


Ava Mehta, sales and marketing account manager, Qatar Tourism Authority UK & Ireland, says: “Designed by the world recognised fine architect, Jean Nouvel, the museum will showcase Qatar’s past and evolution to the future, combining historic objects and contemporary influences.”


Book it: Hayes & Jarvis has seven nights at the Westin Doha Hotel and Spa from £1,499pp with Gatwick flights included.



National Museum of the Sultanate of Oman

The National Museum of the Sultanate of Oman houses the region’s first open-plan museum storage concept. Here visitors can learn about the processes artefacts go through before they are put on display.


In the heart of Muscat, the museum recounts tales of the earliest settlers in Oman through ancient treasure chests, primitive tools and gold coins excavated from 16th- century ships reportedly belonging to Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama.


Maitha Al Mahrouqi, undersecretary for the Oman Ministry of Tourism, says: “We recommend tourists visit the National Museum at the beginning of their stay as it will provide helpful background knowledge regarding Oman’s role in history and cultural insights.”


Museum of the Frankincense Land
Salalah makes for an ideal twin- centre break in Oman, with Oman Air flights from Muscat taking less than two hours. For clients seeking a less frequented attraction, Al Mahrouqi suggests a trip to the Museum of the Frankincense Land.


“Little is known about the demise of the 12th-century trading port of Dhofar, but this museum illustrates the maritime strength of the nation, including its recent renaissance.”


Clients can also view thousand- year-old trees that produce the perfumed oil, and take in displays that chronicle human settlement in the area since 2000BC.


Book it: Premier Holidays has seven nights in Oman from £1,499pp, including four nights at The Chedi Muscat followed by three nights at Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara.



Bahrain National Museum

Situated in Manama, the Bahrain National Museum illustrates 5,000 years of the nation’s history. Three halls are devoted to archaeology and the ancient Dilmun civilisation, while two additional spaces depict the culture and lifestyle of the nation’s pre-industrial past.


A highlight is the Durand Stone – a black basalt sculpture dating back to 1600BC during the Old Babylonian Period.


Yousef Alkhan, director of marketing and promotions at the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority, says: “This institution provides the perfect introduction to our island nation. The pearling exhibit is one not to miss as it is so finely woven into Bahrain’s culture and trading heritage.”


Manama Post Office
As one of the oldest buildings in Manama, this quirky museum details the history of Bahrain’s postal service. Alkhan explains: “The Post Office Museum provides an amazing archive of the postal services and their importance to the history of Bahrain.


It is particularly impressive to stamp- lovers and collectors of vintage technology as it houses a gallery of old photographs and tools such as scales and franking machines.”


Visitors can print and mail their own postcards using an interactive audio-visual display as well as purchase new and vintage collectable stamps at an in-house bureau counter.


Book it: The Inspiring Travel Company has a seven-night stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain from £1,389pp.




Dubai Museum
The Dubai Museum, located in the Al Fahidi Fort, was built in 1787 and is the city’s oldest building.


Shahab Shayan, senior manager, UK, Ireland and Nordics at Dubai Tourism, says: “The Dubai Museum narrates the emirate’s transition from a fishing village to a cutting-edge city. My favourite exhibition is the life-size diorama depicting how locals were fishing pearls centuries ago, laying the foundation of Dubai as a city, a poignant testimony of our trading roots.”

Visitors can also experience drawings, diagrams, digital displays and monuments showcasing Arabic pottery, weapons and tombs.


Coffee Museum
Costa Rica, Mexico and Colombia – a few nations you might associate with coffee production. However, the caffeinated beverage has been a longstanding part of Middle Eastern heritage.


Clients wanting to learn more should check out the Coffee Museum in Dubai’s Al Fahidi Historic Neighbourhood. The ground floor is divided into zones reflecting the traditions of coffee-drinking culture, with staff in traditional regalia preparing the brew.


Furthermore, the museum has numerous display rooms featuring coffee pots and coffee-related literature dating back to the 18th century.

Book it: If Only has five nights at the Sofitel Dubai with Manchester flights from £915pp valid for departures from June 8-13, 2018.

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