Trip Start Jan 07, 2012
73Trip End May 09, 2012
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Many visitors are surprised to learn how old the local civilization really is. The main island is thought to have been torn from the Arabian Peninsula prior to 6000 B.C. and with Stone Age people who lived there as early as 5000 B.C. The islands of Bahrain were home to one of the great trading empires of the ancient world. This formed the civilization of Dilmun, founded during the Bronze Age around 3000 B.C., which lasted over 2000 years. This society served as an important trade link between two of the oldest cradles of civilization, the Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley (today's India and Pakistan). The island was a good source of copper for tools, weapons, and works of art, along with hosting the best harbor in the Persian Gulf. Interesting ruins from this very ancient period (perhaps 3200 B.C.) can be visited today below Bahrain Fort. Dilmun was fully absorbed by the Babylonian empire by 600 B.C. From about the 6th century B.C. the Achaemenian Persian Empire gained control of the Gulf and Bahrain’s fortunes were tied to Persian influence from that time on. The empire was succeeded by the Sassanian Persians, and then the Macedonians of Alexander the Great. The Greeks referred to Bahrain as the island of Tylos, and spoke of its beauty in glowing terms.
After the ancient empires had passed from the scene, Bahrain continued a brisk trade with its commercial partners. At the time of Prophet Muhammad, it is said that he personally invited the islanders to adopt Islam, and they agreed. About the year 899 a strict Islamic sect seized control of the islands, hoping to create a utopian society in a green, beautiful place. The local people continued to supplement their commerce with their ship building skills and with diving for pearls in one of the world’s richest natural pearling grounds.
In 1521, the Portuguese gained control of the island as part of their expanding commercial sphere in the Indian Ocean. They built the powerful "Portuguese Fort" to guard their trade routes from competitors. The 80-year tenure of the Portuguese gave Bahrain an even broader network for their pearls and other products. But in 1602 the great Persian Shah Abbas expelled the Portuguese and declared Shia Islam to be predominant. To this day, over half of the Bahraini Arabs are Shi’ite, and many have at least some Persian ancestry.
Members of the Al Khalifa family migrated from Kuwait in 1797, and began to dispute Persian domination of the islands. A long struggle followed, but the Al Khalifa family’s hold was confirmed by 1820, with help from the British East India Company, and they have remained the ruling dynasty since that time. A special treaty was set up to help boost trade, introduced a gradual modernization plan and to balance the economy over time. In June 1932, oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Bahrain. It was the first discovery of oil on the Arab side of the Gulf and it coincided with the collapse of the world pearl market, which had been Bahrain’s main export. The special treaty ended in 1971, and Bahrain became a completely independent monarchy, although friendly relations with the United Kingdom continue.
Manama is the capital of Bahrain’s main island. Its unique skyline interlaces mosques with futuristic skyscrapers and showing the importance of traditional Islamic culture admist the Middle Eastern country’s prosperity as a center of trade, tourism and petroleum on the Persian Gulf. Manama has a population of about 791,000, while Bahrain has about 1,250,000, with about 62% being Bahraini. Most are Islam (Shiite and Sunni) at 81% and 9% are Christian. The official language is Arabis, however English is widely spoken. The currency is Bahraini dinar. The climate is arid with mild winters and very hot and dry summers; with highs reaching 122 degrees in the summer! It is customary for the men to receive guests every day in their home; however the women only receive guests on special occasions. They are usually not seen in the home when the men entertain; they only are present when serving. Women must be completely covered when in public and can only not be covered when in the walls of their own homes. Marriages are usually arranged and it is common for them to be among other family members. Camels are used for dowries as well as money. The average cost for a father to pay is equivalent to $3000 USD. The younger and prettier the woman is, the more the cost will be. Average age for women to marry is about 20 years of age.
We arrived at our berth in Manama at Khalifa Bin Salman Port at about 8:00 a.m. We had decided to take a ship tour for this port. After disembarking, we received a very warm welcome in the terminal greeted by local people offering a traditional warm drink and sweet snacks. As we walked through the terminal to board our bus, we noticed a nice shopping area to visit upon our return.
Our tour started out driving through the port and across the causeway to the city of Manama. Our first stop was the huge domed Al Fateh Mosque, also known as the Grand Mosque. This elaborate mosque is Bahrain’s most expansive house of worship, boasting the world’s largest fiberglass dome, weighing 60 tons. Al Fateh is one of the largest mosques in the world and accommodates over 7000 worshippers and includes the National Library. It was named after the founder of the ruling Al Kalifa Dynasty. Before entering the mosque, all women had to be completely covered from head to foot. Even though we had been instructed to have long sleeves and to be covered to ankles, we were still given robes to wear and had to have our heads completely covered and we had to take off our shoes. Then men just had to have on trousers or to wear a robe. Our next stop was the multi-million-dollar Bahrain National Museum, which has an extraordinary collection of artifacts covering 6000 years of Bahraini history. This museum was very nicely displayed and had all information in English as well. As we drove through the city and surrounding area, we went past Bahrain’s World Trade Center. The Center’s twin towers are over 700 feet high and are linked by three sky bridges containing wind turbines. Then we drove to the Bahrain Fort, which overlooks the gulf and sits atop an artificial mound. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has been occupied for over 2000 years. This place is designated an archaeological treasure and has unearthed copper relics, ivory and pottery thousands of years old. It was quite an interesting place to see. On our way back, we stopped at a camel farm owned by members of the royal family. As of last count in the past week, there are about 568 camels, though a few new ones have recently been born. We were able to walk around the area with the camels and take pictures. We certainly have never seen that many camels all together before!
All in all, we enjoyed our time in Bahrain. The city was extremely clean and modern, especially compared to what we have recently seen. The people were friendly and certainly made you feel welcome in their country.