Where the history touches the present
The word “Bahrain” means “two seas” which is quite confusing when one is looking on the map showing small island surrounded by the waters of the Persian Gulf. However, the explanation to the name of the island lies in the fact that the waters of the Persian Gulf surrounding the island combine the sweet and salty water flows.
For our 10-days-holiday in Bahrain we opted for Sofitel Resort in Zallaq, some 40 minutes drive from the city of Manama. This allowed us to have the peaceful stay close to the beach, far away from the busy business districts with a perfect starting point to many attractions.
Right upon the arrival Bahrain does not make spectacular impression like Dubai or Doha do. However, this is exactly why it is worth a longer stay and exploration.
The panorama of the capital of Bahrain, Manama, is very similar to other Persian Gulf metropoles but its charm is somewhere else. Bahrain with its surface marginally exceeding the surface of the City of Warsaw has two architectural monuments listed by UNESCO – the Fort of Bahrain and the Pearl Route being still undiscovered and, unfortunately, not well marketed by the local authorities. The things like these are not very common in the Gulf region.
Contrary to other Gulf countries, Bahrain’s strategic location made it an attractive place for traders and conquerors for ages. Starting from Phoenicians in the ancient times, going through Portugueses in the medieval era and ending with the Brits in the 19th and 20th century. It is worth to mention that the oldest archeological site dates back to 2500 years BC (close to the Fort of Bahrain).
The inhabitants of Bahrain work (!) by which they remind me of my sympathy to Omani people. Bahrain is not marked by the symbols of wealth on every corner because its resources of oil and gas are not as big as those of its neighbors. Last but not least, this is the only country in the Gulf region where alcohol prohibition is not legally enforced and where the traffic police can check your sobriety while driving.
At the same time Bahrain is the country with the strongest social tensions resulting from the Shia majority in the population and the Sunni minority governing the country. With Iran putting its fingers to destabilize the situation in the country, the riots become the daily picture in some districts/ villages.
Bahrain is also seen as Las Vegas of the Saudis. It has nothing to do with gambling. Due to the road border point between two countries, Bahrain is full of Saudis coming for the weekend stays just to try “freedom” :-). Except of plenty of normal Saudi families, there is certain number of Saudi men coming to the country with an attempt to enjoy the nightlife of Bahrain. As they are not used to drink alcohol and they don’t know how to do it, the effects are deplorable. They also try to find the attention of women by showing them their gold membership cards in the hotel’s’ chains or car rental companies :-). My wife experienced a Saudi man trying to attract her attention by showing his membership card in the hotel’s loyalty programme :-).
The Fort of Bahrain (Qal’at al-Bahrain)
The Fort is located in the city of Manama, in the North of the island. Erected initially in 2300 BC and taken over by various conquerors (Kassites, Greeks, Portuguese and Persians), it is today the main point on the exploring route in Bahrain.
This is the second fort (out of 4) in Bahrain, erected in 16th century in Arad when the district was an island. Today, Arad is part of Al-Muharraq district and the Fort ensures magnificent views on Manama’s downtown.
Al Fateh Grand Mosque and Isa Cultural Center (The National Library)
Saudi border point – The Passport Island
The place has nothing to do with the national heritage of Bahrain. However, it is worth visiting for Europeans to see the advantages of our integration. Although the Gulf countries have established similar organization of economic cooperation like the EU, the positive impact on the daily life of the citizens is unnoticeable. The border point has the full border infrastructure with fences, passport check controls etc.
Tree of Life and the oil fields
In order to understand the meaning of the Tree of Life you have to spend some time in the region. Tree of Life is the 400-years-old acacia growing naturally in the Southern part of the island. There is no explanation on how the tree could survive except of the name of the island i.e. Bahrain – two seas – sweet and salty water flows which probably support the roots,of the tree with the sufficient volume of the sweet water. Anyway, the place became the pilgrimage center for the locals.
when getting there you have to cross the kilometers of oil and gas fields (including the oil well no.1 erected in 1930s when oil reserves were discovered in the island). The view from the road is very unique and reminds on something you can se in some American old movies showing the individual oil exploration wells in Texas or Colorado.
The Pearl Route
Well, it costed me a lot of time to find the place although it is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The tourist guides in Bahrain do not know exactly where it is. There is no sufficient information on internet neither.
The place you have to start to explore the Pearl Route is the Sheikh Abdullah Avaenue (intersection with Sheikh Mohammad Ave.). Then go North (or left when arriving from Manama). After walking the narrow streets in the area you’ll find all the buildings belonging to the Pearl Route – the historical place of Bahrain consisting of refurbished houses belonging to the historic pearl traders before Bahrain explored the oil and gas. The Pearl industry in Bahrain was providing the solid base of income for the population until 1930s when the oil was found and the Japanese started growing the pearls in the artificially set up plants. For this reason, selling the pearls grown in the plants is forbidden by law in Bahrain.
One warning. All available information sources on internet provide for Bu Maher Fort in the South of Muharraq ending the Pearl Route. I took an extremely hour to walk to the place when I realized that it is located in the base of Bahraini Coast Guard and it could be access by boat only when driving from the Exhibition Centre.
Except of wide number of cultural and entertainment events advertised throughout the country (concerts, shows etc.), Bahrain offers many shopping opportunities. Although the traditional malls create the main frame of the shopping panorama there are two places worth particular attention i.e. Bab Al Bahrain (The Gate to Bahrain) and the Dragon Centre. The first one is the traditional Arabic market place including the small and not impressive gold souq and the second one is the cheapest equivalent to Dubai’s Karama (cheap Chinese iPhone covers rather than fake watches or purses).
Al Areen Wildlife Reservation
Our first reaction to see the place was not enthusiastic. At the end of the day what can you see in another zoo? Nevertheless, Al-Areen opened our eyes to wildlife and nature. The reservation is located on several hectares where the animals enjoy the freedom to move. after renting the golf car (at 10 BHD) or taking the free bus departing hourly the visitors can view ostriches running around. Moreover, we were enjoying the staff feeding the birds or asking the parrots to land on your arm.