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The Best Architecture in the Middle East

by Travelbag on 12 February 2018, 12:02PM

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The Middle East’s building traditions date back centuries, from sacred mosques to desert fortresses, ancient marketplaces to the ex-abodes of rich pearling merchants. Pop up cities like Dubai and more recently Doha have erected architecture that echoes the minarets and domes of the old Islamic World in modern materials like fibre glass and reinforced concrete. The result is an architectural calendar set amidst the otherwise timeless deserts along the Persian Gulf. Here are six structures not to be missed.


Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar

Like a series of sugar cubes sculpted from limestone and glass, Qatar's Museum of Islamic Art stands on its own small island in Doha. Designed by Chinese-American architect, I.M. Pei, it was completed in 2008 after only three years of construction. The museum's stellar reputation for its world-class collection of Islamic art makes it a must-see for art and architecture fans alike. Its grand window also offers commanding views of the Doha skyline and the open amphitheatre regularly features musical performances and festivals like the Doha Tribeca Film Festival.

museum of islamic art


'Pearling Trail' buildings in Manama, Bahrain

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bahrain’s Pearling Trail consists of 17 historic buildings, a section of coastline, three oyster beds and the seafront fortress of Qal’al Bu Mahir. The latter is where dhow boats used to set off for the oyster beds from. The 17 buildings include a mosque, storehouses and what were once the residences of wealthy pearl merchants. Constructed from timber and faroush, a local stone harvested from the seabed, they date to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The high level of craftsmanship is as impressive as their age.

pearling trail


Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE

Designed to model local Islamic architecture and constructed primarily from reinforced concrete, the Burj Khalifa stands 829.8 metre high, including its antenna. The focal point of Downtown Dubai, a mixed-use complex, it was designed by Adrian Smith and opened in 2010. It is a popular venue for BASE jumping (both authorised and unauthorised) and also attracts visitors to its 122nd floor bar, which is one of the world's highest. Its triple-lobed footprint layout is inspired by desert flowers (Hymenocallis) and the tower and spires by the iconic minarets of Islam’s mosques.

burj khalifa


Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar

Dating back at least a hundred years, Qatar's Souq Waqif was renovated back in 2006 in traditional Qatari style. Its buildings are low-rise and make use of local materials including mud, bamboo and palm fronds. The stalls that line its narrow alleyways entice tourists in search of traditional goods like spices, swords and handicrafts. In the afternoon, locals sip sweet teas and thick Arabic coffee in the cafes when the shops close for a few hours. An annual spring festival sees it play host to theatre shows, acrobatics and music.

souq waqif


Al-Fateh Mosque in Manama, Bahrain

One of the world's largest mosques, the Al-Fateh Mosque can accommodate around 7,000 worshippers. Built in 1987 by Sheikh Isa ibn Salman Al Khalifa, its huge dome is made from fibreglass, the marble floor comes from Italy and its teak doors are Indian. The calligraphy throughout is in the Kufic style from the seventh century and the library contains some 7,000 books (one per person in the building at full capacity) some of which are over a hundred years old. Al-Fateh Mosque welcomes visitors every day except Friday when it’s worshippers only.

al fateh mosque


Cayan Tower in Dubai, UAE

This helical-shaped residential tower is the tallest of its kind in the world. Almost improbably, its 330 metres of height include no pillars, making it feel roomy and light inside. Designed by the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill architectural group (the same designers of the Burj Khalifa), it was completed in 2013 and is constructed from concrete. It turns through ninety degrees over the course of its height and the luxury apartment rooms offers views of the gulf waterfront. The helix shape also provides shelter from diurnal winds.

cayan tower


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