Msheireb was the original heart of downtown Doha, Qatar and the oldest part of the city, charting Doha’s first hotel, bank, pharmacy and cafes. Doha’s ongoing transition from a sleepy pearl-diving town to an emerging world city is now showcased in the newly opened Msheireb Museums.
The four restored heritage houses – Radwani House, Company House, Mohammed Bin Jassim House and the Bin Jelmood House – all clustered around traditional courtyards uniquely capture the massive changes Qatar underwent during the past century.
The Radwani House traces domestic living displaying traditional furniture and showing how a typical Qatari family lived in the 1920s and throughout the decades. Ali Akbar Radwani bought the courtyard house, originally constructed in the 1920s, in 1936. The family abandoned the home in 1971 and it sat vacant and derelict until 2007.
Between 2012 and 13, archaeology experts excavated the ground and discovered an old well and one of the walls of the original house. The family home is situated around an open-air rectangular space. A number of interesting artifacts uncovered are on display.
The Company House, the former headquarters of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, is devoted to the history of Qatar’s petroleum industry. It features various tools and appliances from the early days of the oil industry in 1939, firsthand accounts of the grueling labor by pioneering workers, and six white life-sized plaster statues showing the different jobs these men performed during the mid 20th century.
The Mohammed Bin Jassim House, built by the son of the founder of modern Qatar, is a work in progress located near the new modern Msheireb mosque. It currently displays Doha’s unique architectural heritage in the old Msheireb district and shows how it evolved over time. The displays balance the sophisticated requirements of 21st century living and the responsibility to preserve local heritage and culture, and provide a good overview of how the sudden oil wealth impacted everyday life in Qatar.
The arrival of cars, air conditioning and the first cement shipment – all in the early 1950s – transformed the old commercial area into an important business hub. In 1951 Doha had just 20,000 residents, quadrupling in size to 80,000 in 1975. This house also features firsthand interviews and stories with residents of the time who lived in the Msheireb district.
The most interesting house, in my opinion, is the Bin Jelmood House, named for a renowned Qatari slave owner, which features the history of slavery in Qatar, an overview of historical slavery stemming from the Indian Ocean region, and contemporary slavery – human trafficking – around the world. The historical accounts and firsthand testimonials of Qatar slaves are powerful and relevant. Despite a shameful legacy, it was refreshing to see that Qatar did not sugarcoat slavery in this country. It was a very detailed and informative museum house that encourages discussion of historical slavery in the country, as well as modern day slavery worldwide.
As stated at the renovated house entrance: “Bin Jelmood House exists to promote reflection and conversation on important truths about historical slavery in Qatar and the critical issue of contemporary slavery around the world.”
Detailed slavery history culminates with the Middle East ban on child camel racing jockeys in 2005. Twenty-first century slavery discussed human trafficking worldwide.