Friday, February 4, 2011

Manama, Bahrain

Bahrain (‏البحرين‎‎), officially the Kingdom of Bahrain, is a small island country near the western shores of the Persian Gulf. It is ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family. The population in 2010 stood at 1,214,705, including 235,108 non-nationals. Known for its oil and pearls, Bahrain is an archipelago of 33 islands, the largest being Bahrain Island, at 55 km (34 mi) long by 18 km (11 mi) wide. Saudi Arabia lies to the west and is connected to Bahrain by the King Fahd Causeway. Qatar is to the southeast across the Gulf of Bahrain. The planned Qatar Bahrain Causeway will link Bahrain and Qatar and become the world's longest marine causeway.

Bahrain means "two seas" in Arabic. As the island is in the middle of a bay, the two seas referred to lie to the east and west respectively. Inhabited since ancient times, Bahrain occupies a strategic location in the Persian Gulf that has been ruled and influenced by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and the Arabs, under whom the island became Islamic. Bahrain may have been associated with Dilmun, an important Bronze age trade centre linking Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.

Bahrain National Museum

I had no idea that Bahrain had so much history but apparently there have been people living on this little island much earlier than in Qatar!

They also had a big pearling industry.

There was a mini special exhibit happening with some cool paintings.

The Al-Fateh Mosque (مسجد الفاتح‎) is one of the largest mosques in the world, with the capacity to accommodate over 7,000 worshippers at a time. The huge dome built on top of the Al-Fatih Mosque is made of pure fiberglass. Weighting over 60 t (60,000 kg), the dome is currently the worlds largest fibreglass dome.

Upon entering, I had to put on a black abaya.  This was my first time wearing one.  A nice girl from Pakistan gave me a tour of this mosque. She told me that the supplies used to build the mosque are from all over the world and of the highest quality, including marble from Italy, glass from Austria, and teak wood from India.

downtown Manama

I read about a "Museum of Pearl Diving" in several places around the internet as well as Lonely Planet. I came armed with maps and photos of this place so I could certainly find it. After an hour of searching with the driver, he finally convinced me that it didn't exist. I still wasn't satisfied but then we found the building that was pictured on all the travel sites. The driver just left the car on in the middle of the street (he didn't seem too bothered about this) and went inside with me. It was just a shopping center. I don't think this museum exists anymore and it looks like now it became shops. Of course, I still had to make sure so the driver started asking people inside if they knew anything. He asked shop keepers and even a Bahraini couple. The Bahraini couple said they would make some calls to ask around. At this point, the driver started to be slightly concerned about his car left in the middle of traffic, so I said it was fine, he could go. I remained with the couple while they were asking around. They also couldn't find it but said instead that they would take me to see a Bahraini fort. I tried to decline but they insisted so off to see a fort!

They left me at this fort and said that the driver would return in an hour and a half to pick me up.  I tried to say it was ok, but they said no taxis come here so that's how it would be.  I could not believe their kindness.

The Bahrain Fort or Qal`at al-Bahrain (قلعة البحرين‎) as well as the fort of Nader Shah, the Persian king, is an archaeological site located in Bahrain. It is composed of an artificial mound created by human inhabitants from 2300 BC up to the 18th century, including Portuguese and Persians. Among other things, it was once the capital of the Dilmun civilization, and served more recently as a Portuguese fort. For these reasons, it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

Qal`at al-Bahrain is a typical tell — an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation. The strata of the 300×600-metre tell testify to continuous human presence from about 2300 BC to the 16th century AD. About 25% of the site has been excavated revealing structures of different types: residential, public, commercial, religious and military. They testify to the importance of the site as a trading port over the centuries. On the top of the 12m high mound, there is the impressive Qal`at al-Burtughal (Portuguese fort), which gave the whole site its name, qal`a, meaning fort. The site was the capital of the Dilmun, one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region. It contains the richest remains inventoried of this civilization, which was hitherto only known from written Sumerian references.

The fort was huge with so many passage ways and rooms.  There was also some sort of photo shoot going on, perhaps for an ad or commercial.

There was also a little museum here, Qal'at al-Bahrain Site Museum (opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 8am-8pm, Monday closed).  The security guard told me it was closed, even though it was a Thursday.  However, the door seemed a bit open so I didn't see any harm in a quick peak.

While I waited for the driver, no clue if he was actually coming, I saw these buildings with neat paintings on them.

Their driver did come back and with him he brought a huge bag of food, including homemade Bahraini food!  I was totally shocked by all this kindness and the food was delicious.  It was a green vegetable (possibly spinach) with lamb over rice dish.  Then the driver took me to a craft market.

Capital Mall, Bahraini Handmade Products
Saturday-Thursday 9am-1pm, 4pm-9pm
Friday 4pm-9pm

This was so cool with a lot of door art, like these:

Pearl Roundabout

Manama Souq is different from Souq Waqif in Doha since cars can drive right through it...

I had given up on a pearl museum, but then a friend took me to Al-Mahmood Pearls Museum in  Yateem Centre near the souq!

This was awesome.  Then we went to an art exhibit from the Dubai Opera Gallery featuring Salvador Dali.

Kaplan Mark
Ce Soir-ci
Oil on canvas
89 x 139 cm
US$ 30700

Jean-Francois Larrieu
Deux arbres unis
Acrylic on canvas
162 x 130 cm
US$ 26800

Profile of Time
18 karat gold; 442 diamonds, 5.88 karat; 1 ruby, 0.12 karat
Price on request

Also managed to see a seal show!  The seals actually climbed through the audience and a baby seal played with some of the kids right at their seats... I don't think this would happen in the US.

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