Land Of Deserts And Skyscrapers – Bahrain

We continue exploring the Middle East. Since we have given you a short intro into sights and culture of the UAE, it is time to visit another country in the region. You never know when you will have a chance to come to the Middle East again, and it is useful to have in mind what you should see. It is time, therefore, for Bahrain - one of the smallest and richest countries in the world. Bahrain is a small archipelago in the Persian Gulf located between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

How to get there?

The easiest and safest way is by plane from Dubai, to Manama, the capital of this small island country.

What to see and do?

Bahrain is a small oasis in the sea, rich in oil, culture, history, and a modern lifestyle. It is often seen as place that is more open to visitors than other countries in the region because of its stability, rich historical and cultural heritage, and relaxed laws which do not incorporate Islamic law. The dress code for women here isn’t strict to the degree that it is in other Muslim countries where Sharia law dominates. Most of attractions here are located in Manama, the biggest and most developed city in Bahrain.

Qalat Al Bahrain

Bahrain fort

Let’s start with Bahrain’s historical heritage. Qalat Al Bahrain is the largest fortress and the most ancient town not only in Bahrain, but in the whole Gulf region. The fortress is located only a few kilometers from Manama, and its earliest ruins date from the ancient Sumerians. After the Sumerians, the ancient Greeks occupied the fort, and later the Arabs became dthe longest-running owners of the place. Due to its strategic location, the town has served as a center for fishing and commerce while the fort has provided for the town’s defense. The current outline of the walls and streets dates from the 14th century and reflects the Arabic style. After efforts at reconstruction, the wall is now in excellent condition. You can pass through the fort’s gates and walk down the streets of the fort town and observe the defensive walls with well-preserved cannons. The fort reminds many visitors of the maze in the Tomb Raiders or Indiana Jones movies. The walls and domes of the fort were so well restored that they almost seem like new construction, but from the 14th century. Within the fort there is also a museum which offers a great collection of the tools, decorations, clothes, and weapons used by the Arabs who lived here between the 9th and 20th centuries. Nearby are many souvenir shops where you can buy lamps which look like Aladdin’s lamps complete with genies, and also water pipes, scarves, dresses, carpets, and sabers.

Barbar temple

Ruins of Barbar temple near Manama city

Located less than 30km from Manama, Barbar is an archeological site which dates from 3000BC. The core of it was a polytheistic temple of the ancient Sumerians. Today you will find only ruins here, but they are extensive enough to allow you to imagine this place as it was in the past.

Bin Matar House – Place of Memory

This is the house of the nobleman Salman Hussein bin Matar, and it dates from the beginning of the 20th century. The house is in typical Arabic style and in very good condition. There are often exhibitions of paintings or sculptures. So probably when you visit an interesting exhibition will be waiting for you.

Al Fateh Mosque

Al Fateh Mosque

This is one of the world’s largest mosques. It was built in the 1980s and is located in the center of Manama. It is best to visit this mosque twice – at least once when it is between prayer times and will be almost empty. Even when there are tourists, its large halls create the illusion that it is even emptier than it really is. You can use that chance to walk around and experience the size and the beautiful colors of the carvings and ornaments or simply enjoy the atmosphere in this grand construction. During prayer time you will see thousands of people sitting and bowing in a harmonious way like one single being. If you are not Muslim you can still be present and experience the special atmosphere of Muslim religious practice.

Corniche Al Fateh

The Corniche, the most important modern promenade in Manama, stretches along Manama city’s water front and offers a great opportunity to observe the sea on one side and Manama’s skyscrapers and parks on the land side. Nearby is the airport, and you can watch the planes taking off or landing. You can continue your walk to the marina and see many large yachts. The Promenade offers a large number of pubs and coffee shops where you can sit in the morning and drink strong Arabic coffee and smoke shisha. This is one of most popular places for taking photos of both the skyscrapers and the sea. Moreover you can enter one of many parks with green grass, fountains, and tall palms. Sometimes it is hard to imagine that such rich vegetation is possible in a desert climate.

Al Ali Mall

There are at least ten large shopping malls in Bahrein. Most of them are located in the major business area where you can see a large number of skyscrapers which house flats, hotels, offices, and shops. One of most outstanding shopping malls is Al Ali Mall because of its design. It reflects a very specific architectural concept, constructed of steel and glass in the shape of traditional Arabic palaces. Most of its exclusive shops have wooden arched doors in traditional style. This combination of modern architecture and design with traditional details makes this mall a most attractive one. Moreover, the mall houses 60 world famous shops. Just take care of your wallet here, because if you start buying you will be tempted to spend everything.

Hawar Island

Hawar is one of most interesting islands in the Bahrain archipelago. It can be reached by regular boat ride, but also you can rent your own boat or yacht and cruise around by yourself. One way or the other, you must stop by this island. The Island is uninhabited, but there is a large luxury hotel which offers a spa and swimming pools. Hawar Island is a good place for many forms of recreation, including swimming, scuba diving, and birdwatching. Near the hotel complex there are many sand beaches which are much cleaner and less crowded than those closer to Manama. So this is your chance to enjoy a warm, clean tropical sea. If you prefer swimming pools, you can pay an entrance fee and use one of the swimming pools owned by the hotel. There is also a large aqua park that is especially interesting for children. Respecting scuba diving, Hawar is a great place for that, too. The biodiversity of fish, seaweed, and shells is notable, and thus scuba diving is unforgettable. And if you are not an experienced scuba diver, there are instructors who can help you by giving lessons and watching out for your safety. If you are a fan of birds, Hawar Island is the perfect spot for you. You can come to the beach and observe hundreds of cormorants and gulls. It is possible to watch them for a long time and observe how they fly, swim, and dive. You can rent binoculars and observe their activities even better. The best time for watching birds is at dawn or dusk, because they fly the most when the sun is shining and often land on the beach to give their wings a rest.

Time for food

As in every Arabic country, you can expect a large variety of wonderful food. Arabic cuisine is generally great for gourmands, and Bahraini cuisine is a specific, local variation on the norms of Arabic cookery. The most popular dish here is biryani, a dish composed of rice and chicken or lamb. Qquzi is the most typical Bahrain dish. It is roasted lamb stuffed with rice and eggs. So expect to be more than full after such an amazing dish. When it comes to desserts, in Bahrain they are very interesting and rich. In addition to the typical Arabic halva, here you will find Zalabia – a fried dough covered with lemon and sugar syrup. If you want a lighter dessert you can order dried dates, which are sweet and tasty.

Manama by night

After sunset, this Middle Eastern metropolis comes alive. You can visit bars and clubs, and you can enjoy walking around, too. There are many bars located in the city center but also on Al Fateh promenade next to the shore. I always suggest places with open doors, preferably near the water. In the evening it is best to have beer, lemonade, or cocktails and shisha. This Muslim country allows the free sale of alcoholic beverages, but they are comparatively expensive. Beer, for example, costs about 8eur. If you meet some locals you will most likely be invited to drink strong Arabic tea. Tea is a major feature of hospitality in Bahrein, and an invitation for tea is the clearest sign of hospitality and respect. In Europe or the Americas, an invitation for an alcoholic beverage is a common mark of hospitality, but in the Muslim world it is tea that says “welcome“. So in order not to offend hosts it is a good idea to take at least one cup of tea. Sitting in a cozy bar gives you a chance to explore the city by night, when temperatures drop sharply after sunset. You can walk down long avenues, passing parks and great shopping plazas and skyscrapers. And it is a great idea to enter narrow old streets full of night markets where you will find street food, shisha bars, souvenirs, and carpets. These streets are the perfect place to experience the lively and chaotic atmosphere of Arabic bazaars.

Photos: Shutterstock

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