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Die Skyline von Manama, Bild: trabantos / shutterstock

Bahrain – a “tree of life” in the desert

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The city-state of Bahrain is, like most of its Arab neighbors, a kingdom. With 750 square kilometers, however, it is a dwarf among the countries in this region – hardly larger than Hamburg. But for some, Bahrain is a pearl among the countries of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf. Bahrain can be translated as “two seas”, which describes the extraordinary location in a bay west of Qatar and east of Saudi Arabia . In the metropolis of Manama, the contrasts meet with the towering Bahrain World Trade Center, which is about 240 meters high, and the numerous slender minarets of the mosques worth seeing.

This area on the Persian Gulf was already inhabited in ancient times and was considered an important transshipment point for goods. Significant in this period of Bahrain’s history was the trade of the Babylonians and Sumerians with the Indus Valley. The islands were named after Enki-Ea, who, as ruler of the Abzu ocean, was also the god of artists, magicians and craftsmen. In the 7th century, Bahrain was conquered by the Arabs, with which Islam prevailed.

Traces of history can be found in the Kalat al-Bahrain archaeological site on the north coast of the island. The city, uncovered by archaeologists and ennobled by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, dates back to the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC. According to the scientists, it was a center of the Dilmun period. Intensive insights into the culture of this early era are provided by the interesting National Museum. It vividly illustrates how customs and traditions of the Dilmun era dominated the everyday life of the people of the Gulf.

An important part of the documentation in the National Museum of Bahrain is the history of pearl fishing, as the city-state was the most important supplier of natural pearls for a long time. They were considered the most beautiful and precious in the world. The demand for the treasures from the sea did not fall until the thirties of the last century, when artificial pearls from Japan suddenly dominated the market. With the discovery of the first oil wells, interest in natural pearls finally fizzled out. Where once the fishermen dived for the pearls off the island of al-Muharraq, luxury hotels and comfortable resorts on the beach now rise into the sky. For many years, pearl fishing was regulated by the state – today anyone can keep such a jewel, as long as they are lucky enough to find it in the oyster. Tourists can also dive on a so-called “pearl path”. In the visitor center of Bu Maher Fortress, the history of pearl fishing is told.

The capital Manama, whose beginnings date back to 1345, was the first modern metropolis on the Gulf and is still an important financial center not only in the Arab world. In contrast to neighboring countries, alcohol of any kind is sold freely here. Regional and international culinary delicacies are served in numerous restaurants in the city. Some turn into vibrant bars late at night. More recently, the historic bazaar district with its winding souks has been given a fresh coat of paint.

Bahrain, Al-Fateh Mosque
The Al-Fateh Mosque in Manama, Image: PixHound / shutterstock
Holidaymakers in Bahrain should definitely visit the Al Fateh Grand Mosque with its 70-metre-high minarets. It has an Italian marble floor, can accommodate up to two thousand worshippers and can also be visited by non-Muslims except on Fridays. The Al-Chamis Mosque from the eighth century is older. In the north of the country is the largest necropolis in the world with a total of 160,000 burial mounds. The oldest at the village of A’Aali date back to the 3rd millennium BC.
A special feature can be found in Bahrain not far from the village of Jabal ad-Duchan on the main island. The “Tree of Life” is a tourist attraction – and no one knows why a mesquite tree thrives in this parched area, because the nearest watering hole is 1.2 kilometers away. Bahrain is a wonderland in the desert.

Travel information Bahrain

Capital Manama
Form of government Constitutional monarchy
Currency Bahraini dinar (BHD)
Area approx. 750 km²
Population approx. 1,493,000 (2017)
Languages Arabic
Electricity grid 230 volts, 50 Hz
Area code +973
Time zone UTC +3