SAHARA Highlights: Museums in the Middle East

by Jacqueline Spafford and Mark Hinchman, SAHARA Co-Editors | Nov 04, 2020

This month’s Highlights revisit the rich subject of museum architecture, of which SAHARA holds an enormous variety.  In March we featured museums in the Americas, this month we revisit the subject to look at museums in the Middle East.  The contributions range from archaeological site museums to Classicism to Brutalism and beyond. SAHARA members have traveled to and photographed in major cities and remote regions, and, as always, we are grateful for these contributions. Please consider using your remote work time to enrich the collection further.

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A straight stone walkway leads through a grassy lawn to a low concrete building
Houshang Seyhoun, Ferdowsi Museum, Tus, Iran, 1964-68, restored 2005. Originally designed as a visitor center at the Tomb of Ferdowsi, in 1982 it was designated a museum focused on the Shah Nameh and its author. Photograph by Sahar Hosseini, 2013.


Natural stone towers dotted with man-made hollows rise above scattered trees
Rock-cut churches and natural rock formations at the Göreme Open Air Museum, Cappadocia, Turkey. The churches were created in the 10th-12th centuries.The museum has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1984. Photograph by Dell Upton, 2009.


A long, red building stands with one end open to a recessed glass facade
Evren Başbuğ, Museum of Prehistoric Life, Izmir, Turkey, 2010-14. (Also known as Yeşilova Neolithic Settlement, Visitor Center and Archaeological Research Facility.) Photograph by Emre Gönlügür, 2015.


The interior of the National Museum of Beirut is a two-story gallery with white stone statuary
Antoine Nahas and Pierre Leprince-Ringuet, National Museum of Beirut, Lebanon, 1930-42. Photograph by Lisa D. Schrenk, 2010.


A short flight of stairs leads to a small masonry building with large wooden doors and a flat roof standing in a desert landscape
Museum at Takht-e Soleymān (Fire Temple of Knights), Takab, West Azarbaijan, Iran, 6th-13th centuries (museum is late 20th century). The site, which includes a palace complex, a Zoroastrian sanctuary rebuilt in the Ilkhanid period, and a temple dedicated to Anahita built in the Sasanian period, is a UNESCO World Cultural Property. Photograph by Lorenzo Vigotti, 2013.


the interior of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art displays works on the walls and well as sculptures on white rectangular pedestals
Dan Eitan and Itzhak Yashar, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel, 1971.Photograph by Alona Nitzan-Shiftan, 2011.


High white walls topped with a decorative balustrade enclose an interior courtyard open to above
Beit al-Sadu, Kuwait City, Kuwait. An early 20th century house destroyed in the 1936 flood and rebuilt in adobe and concrete, it now houses a cooperative dedicated to preserving and exhibiting traditional Bedouin sadu weaving. Photograph by Dell Upton, 2016.


A two-story symmetrical masonry building wings with arched windows on either side of a large central arch
André Godard, Archaeological Museum of Iran (part of the National Museum of Iran; also known as Iran Bastan Museum), Tehran, Iran, 1937-38. Godard, the head of the Archaeological Service, designed the museum in the Sasanian style. Photograph by Sahar Hosseini, 2013.


a room with high ceilings boasts colorful patterned walls, arched windows, and built-in seating and shelves
Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions, Azm Palace, Damascus, Syria.View of a room in the main reception building of the selamlek (men’s quarters). Built in 1749 as the private residence of As'ad Pasha al-'Azm, the palace was heavily damaged in the 1920s, and restored 1954-1965 by Michel Ecochard. Photograph by Lisa D. Schrenk, 2010.


Founded in 1940, the Society of Architectural Historians is an international nonprofit membership organization that promotes the study, interpretation and conservation of architecture, design, landscapes and urbanism worldwide. SAH serves a network of local, national and international institutions and individuals who, by profession or interest, focus on the built environment and its role in shaping contemporary life. SAH promotes meaningful public engagement with the history of the built environment through advocacy efforts, print and online publications, and local, national and international programs.

SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610