Bahrain is the Arabian Gulf’s hidden gem, waiting to be discovered by gallivanters across the world. If you zoom out of the world map, the archipelago of 33 islands in nothing but a mere dot. But on discovery, Bahrain is a nation packed with heritage, culture and delicious food.
Bahrain is rich in history; it was home to the Dilmun civilization, an important Bronze Age trade centre connecting Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. The desert nation boasts of archaeological digs, burial mounds and forts, among others. Here is a sneak peek into the nation’s offerings:
Located in Manama, Al Fateh Mosque is the largest mosque in the country, built on reclaimed land in 1984 and is capable of holding up to 7000 worshippers. The mosque was built with marble from Italy, glass from Austria and teak from India, engraved by local Bahraini craftsmen. The carpet in the prayer halls is from Scotland; a three-and-a-half-tonne Swarovski crystal chandelier from Austria hangs in the main hall; the 952 hand-blown glass lamps inside the mosque are from France and the dome is one of the largest fibreglass domes in the world. The mosque premises also house the National Library of Bahrain, which has an impressive collection of Islamic literature. Dedicated guides lead visitors through the mosque, explaining the various facets of religious customs while pointing out special features of mosque architecture.
Bahrain is a wonder house of mystical ancient remains including the thousands of burial mounds that dominate the landscape north of the Island, in the town of A’Ali. Other than the burial mounds, the town is known for its pottery and flat bread; each shaped in traditional kilns. The mounds, which date from the Dilmun period, sheath burial chambers used for all members of society, young and old. The tallest mounds are referred to as the ‘Royal Tombs’. These burial mounds are exceptional, in terms of sheer number and concentration.
Brimming with heritage and a mystical past, the Bahrain Fort, also known as the Qal’at Al Bahrain became Bahrain’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. History says that the site dates back to nearly 5,000 years and its first inhabitants were around the third century BC. These former inhabitants came from Portugal, Persia and parts of modern-day Iraq. It was inhabited over the years, but at the brink of the 16th century, the Portuguese turned it into an impressive fort. The location was the capital of the Dilmun, one of the most significant ancient civilizations of the region. The site and its adjacent areas including a sea tower, considered to be an early lighthouse, and the palm groves, which created the foundation of agricultural trading, are recognised as being the capital of the ancient and powerful Dilmun. The moated fort is particularly attractive at night, when the history of the site seems to rise out of the excavations. The fort comes with a great museum. The museum’s collection showcases five different historical periods which are arranged chronologically, each within its own separate gallery. The museum also contains a main courtyard leading to a café which overlooks the coastline opposite the fort, as well as a lecture hall and gift shop.
Tucked away in Manama is Beit Al Qur’an (House of the Qur’an), founded in 1990, devoted entirely to the understanding of the holy book and Islamic heritage. Beit Al Qur’an is made up of five main parts. The first is the majlis, or ‘gathering place’. The second part is the library, holding over 20,000 books and manuscripts in three languages – Arabic, English and French – the majority of which are on Islam. The third is the Mohammed Bin Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa Lecture Hall which can seat 150 people and is used for lectures and conferences. The fourth section is the Yousuf Bin Ahmad Kanoo School for Qur’anic Studies, offering seven study areas. Lastly, the Al Hayat Museum with over two floors exhibits rare Qur’anic manuscripts from different periods, starting from the first century AD, on parchments from Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, Damascus and Baghdad. The centre is free to the general public.
Located right at the entrance of the famed Manama Souq, the Bal Al Bahrain has been touted as the ‘Gateway to Bahrain’. Built in 1945 by the British, the historical building was originally designed by Sir Chalres Belgrave. In the years to follow, the gateway was reconstructed to give it more of an ‘Islamic’ taste. It is considered among the first urban modernization projects in Bahrain. The small square in front of the bab (gate) was once the terminus of the customs pier – a hint of the degree of land retrieval of the past two decades. In spite of having been moved back from the water’s edge, the gateway is still fittingly named, as goods of various accounts, people of all nationalities, street vendors, shoppers and workers pass under its arches in a steady parade of bustle. In the labyrinth of streets behind the Bab Al Bahrain is the Manama Souq, the place for electronic goods, nuts, spices, sheesha bottles and an overabundance of other Bahraini essentials.
These are just a drop in the ocean of heritage that Bahrain contains. Some other sites include the Arad Fort, Riffa Fort, various museums and the St. Christopher’s Cathedral.