The heart of Qatar National Library, the Heritage Library is a unique contribution to Qatar’s cultural landscape. Its growing collection includes rare and valuable archival documents, books and periodicals in various European languages; early Arabic printed materials, such as books, journals, magazines and newspapers; and Arabic manuscripts, maps, atlases, globes, historical photographs, and instruments and tools related to travel. A number of the printed materials date back to the 15th century, when the printing process had recently been introduced in Europe, and these antiquarian books are among the rarest and most valuable features of the Heritage Library's collection.
A significant number of items in the Heritage Library come from the collection of His Excellency Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani. In 2000, the Heritage Library was transferred to the National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage, and in 2006, it became a part of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development. In 2012, the Heritage Library became an integral part of Qatar National Library.
The Heritage Library is open to the public, and researchers with an interest in a specific area or subject may apply to study relevant items under the supervision of staff.
The QNL Preservation and Conservation Center ensures that the materials in the Heritage Library are provided with the care needed to preserve them for future generations.
The Qatar National Library Archives, part of the Heritage Library, was established to preserve some of the region's most valuable historical and cultural archival documents. This section is home to centuries-old original documents, letters, telegrams, certificates, invoices, and multimedia and audiovisual archives that capture Qatar and the Arab world’s unique culture and heritage.
In addition, the Archives ensure that the creation, storage, classification, use, retention and disposition of the Library’s active records are effective, efficient and aligned with best international standards and best practices in archives and records management.
Books in European Languages
The Heritage Library contains a large number of books written in European languages, mostly English, along with early books in Latin. Most of these works were published between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Some of these books, especially those on Arab-Islamic sciences written in Latin, were printed only a few years after Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press in Europe in 1448. These early items that were printed in the 15th century are called incunabula.
This section also includes writings by European travelers and explorers who visited the Arabian Gulf, the Arab world, and surrounding regions such as Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and India, over the centuries. Other well-established fields are the early European reception of Islamic and Arab sciences, early European translations and editions of the Qur’ān, and early works of famous European scholars on the history, language, art and architecture, and religion of the Islamic world, establishing what later came to be known as Oriental studies.
Early Arabic Printing
The Early Arabic Printing section comprises some rare examples of the earliest printed Arabic books, mainly produced by printing presses in Europe and the Arab world. These include the first Arabic books printed by the Medici Oriental Press in Italy and the Oxford University Press in London, and those printed in Leipzig, Germany; Leiden, Holland; and Turkey. They also include early Arabic books printed by presses in Shweir (Lebanon), Aleppo, Mosul, Bulaq and the Hijaz.
This collection is notable for its diverse range of subjects, including historical sources about the Arabian Gulf and the rest of the Arab world, as well as works on literature, religion, sociology, law and Islamic art. This section includes part of Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah Al-Thani’s private library, as well as part of the library of Khayr al-Din al-Zerekly.
In addition to books, this section contains rare periodicals from the late 19th century that shed light on the history of the Arabic press. Some of these periodicals were irregular in their publication, while others only published a few issues. Other important materials include the first newspapers published in the Arabian Gulf region, such as al-Qibla, and various rare magazines, such as al-Muqtaṭaf.
The Heritage Library has over 20 historical globes manufactured from the 18th century to the mid-20th century. The sizes of the globes rang from large floor globes 76 centimeters in diameter to small tabletop globes and several pocket globes only a few centimeters in diameter.
The earliest globe in the collection dates back to 1728 and is by the famous German cartographer and globe-maker Johann Gabriel Doppelmayr of Nuremberg. The collection also contains a terrestrial globe made for King George III of the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1811 by Dudley Adams, ‘Globe and Instrument Maker to the King,’ as well as a pair of terrestrial and celestial globes by William Edward Newton and Miles Berry dated 1838, and an American cosmosphere, which consists of a terrestrial globe inside a revolving glass celestial sphere, from 1867.
Qatari cities are sometimes mentioned on these globes, such as the globe made by James Wyld in 1859 and the large floor globe manufactured by W. & A.K. Johnston from the early 20th century (c. 1902).
The Heritage Library also has Islamic brass celestial spheres from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Heritage Library houses a growing collection of early photography from the Arab and Islamic world, including vintage prints, photo albums and photographically illustrated publications from the second half of the 19th century to the mid-20th century.
While the geographical focus is on Qatar, the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, the photographs in the collection trace the paths of early travelers in the region, covering areas of North Africa, Egypt, the Levant (Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan), Iraq, Iran, Turkey and former Ottoman lands in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The photographs offer a view of architectural and social history, depicting famous religious monuments and antiquities as well as portraits, scenes of everyday life and important events. In particular, photographs of Qatar and the Gulf represent a unique visual record of local history, documenting traditional activities such as trade and commerce, the discovery and early production of oil, important political and cultural events, and the urban development of Doha up to the 1980s.
This collection also includes prints of famous early Orientalist photographers such as Paul Nadar, Francis Frith, Francis Bedford, Pascal Sébah, Félix Bonfils and Felice Beato.
The majority of the Heritage Library’s collection of more than 2,400 manuscripts consists of Qur’ānic manuscripts and other texts dealing with religious topics. In the Islamic jurisprudence collection of Ḥadīth and Fiqh, one can find several copies of the famous al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth collection, the most significant of which probably originated in Andalusia. Manuscripts discussing the Qur’ānic sciences vary, from those on readings and elocution to many other minor topics.
Manuscripts on the Arabic language are also well-represented in the Heritage Library. These address many topics, including rhetoric, literature, grammar and dictionaries, and include works of famous scholars and authors, such as Zamakhsharī, al-Jurjānī, Taftazānī, al-Ḥarīrī, al-Thaʻālibī, al-Ibshīhī and others.
In the sciences, the manuscripts collection includes topics on medicine, pharmacology, astronomy, arithmetic and engineering. Along with famous works produced by Ibn Sinā and al-Rāzī, this collection also holds one of the most highly regarded ophthalmological manuals written by ʻAlī ibn ʻIsā, entitled Tadhkirat al-kaḥālīn.
The Heritage Library collection also includes Christian-Arab manuscripts and non-Arabic manuscripts as well, written in Ottoman Turkish, Syriac, Persian and Coptic.
Maps and Atlases
The Heritage Library includes a significant collection of maps, charts, and atlases comprising well over 1,200 sheet maps and numerous atlases that date from the end of the 15th century up to the mid-20th century.
This growing collection focuses on Arabia and the Gulf region, including Qatar and other Arab countries in the Middle East, and also contains many maps of Africa and Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Ottoman Empire, as well as world maps and navigational charts. These are complemented by maps and views of historically important sites such as Mecca, Medina, Aden, Muscat, Tangier and others, many of which were originally included in important travel books.
This collection includes many maps and charts by famous mapmakers and cartographers from the 16th to the 19th century, such as Mercator, Ortelius, Waldseemüller, Hondius, Jansson, Blaeu, Sanson Delisle and many others.
The historical map collections at the Heritage Library provide a wealth of materials for studying the history of cartography, with special emphasis on the European encounter with the Arab and Islamic world and its increasing knowledge of the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf region, as well as the Islamic cartographic and geographic traditions. There is also a good cartographic reference library with cartobibliographies and histories of cartography.
First mention of Qatar on a map
The Heritage Library includes a number of early printed maps based upon the Geographia of Claudius Ptolemy, a famous Greco-Egyptian polymath and cartographer who lived in Alexandria in the 2nd century AD (c.100 – c.180). The most important map of these is the first printed map ever to mention Qatar, entitled ‘Tabula Asiae VI’ (‘The Sixth Map of Asia’). Engraved by Conrad Swenheym, an apprentice of Johannes Gutenberg, it was printed in Rome in 1478. The existence of this map clearly demonstrates that Qatar, referred to on the map in Latin as ‘Catara,’ was known to Europe in the 15th century and to the Roman world of the 2nd century AD.
The Heritage Library’s growing Ottoman cartography collection has a substantial collection of unique and rare items. Foremost among these is the 4.35-meter-long Ottoman manuscript strip map from the mid-17th century depicting the course of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from their origins in eastern Anatolia to their confluence in the Shatt al-Arab and their eventual emptying into the Arabian Gulf. The map shows many cities, including the holy city of Mecca, towns, forts, and the roads that connect them.
Other rare Ottoman highlights include a complete edition of the Cedid Atlas Tercümesi, an early 19th century Ottoman atlas published by Mahmud Raif Efendi that is one of the rarest atlases in the world, and the striking heart-shaped world map printed in Venice in 1559 and attributed to the mysterious Hajji Ahmad.
In addition to these and other rarities, this collection includes a number of 19th century and early 20th century Ottoman maps and atlases.
European Age of Discovery cartography
Highlights of European cartography in the collection include a complete 11-volume Latin first edition of Joan Blaeu’s Atlas Maior from 1662, one of the finest examples of Dutch cartography from the Age of Discovery, as well as an outstanding copy of the first true modern atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, by 16th century Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius.
The Heritage Library also contains many 20th century topographic and tourist maps, which provide a wealth of information for studying the dramatic changes the region has undergone in recent decades. These include modern topographic maps made by the mapping agencies of a number of countries in the Middle East. There are also 20th century military maps of the Middle East and North Africa (UK GSGS, US Army Map Service, among others) and nautical charts of the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf. The collection even includes aeronautical charts of the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf region..
Traveler's Instruments and Tools
The Heritage Library has a fine array of instruments and tools used by travelers, explorers, navigators, surveyors and cartographers. The bulk of this collection dates from the 19th century, though some of the navigational tools are from the 18th century.
Traveling, navigation and surveying instruments include pocket compasses, chronometers, parallel rulers, sundials, telescopes, barometers, protractors, theodolites, astrolabes, sextants, octants and quadrants. There are travel writing sets and a combination watch-penknife. This section also includes two 19th century medicine chests, complete with their pharmaceutical contents, as well as a surgical kit with many specialized blades and saws used for performing amputations.
Some other highlights of this collection include a pocket sundial with the names of major cities inscribed on the circumference so that one can determine the time at those locations, which includes Mecca; qibla indicators used to determine the correct direction for the Islamic prayer; some Ottoman quadrants; and two astrolabes.