Many have seen pictures of the dramatic skyline of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, much less well known than its neighbor to the Persian Gulf, although it also signed relations with Israel in September 2020. Bahrain, or officially the Kingdom of Bahrain, is an island nation located in the Persian Gulf, between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Despite its location at sea, it is possible to reach Bahrain by driving thanks to the King Fahd Bridge, which is about 25 kilometers long and which connects the central island of Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. In the past, another bridge was planned to connect Bahrain with Qatar, but the severance of relations between the two calls into question its future.
Bahrain is a tiny country, 760 square kilometers in total (about half the area of Gush Dan!), Inhabited by about a million and a half people, less than half of them foreigners, the rest are foreign workers, mostly from Asia. Its tiny area is over 30 islands, most of them arid, desert The main island is called Bahrain and is inhabited by most of the inhabitants, most of them in urban localities, including Manama, the capital of the state in the north of the island, and Rafaa, in the center. Bahrain is a very flat country, the highest point is Jabal al-Dahan The smoke “in Arabic), which is 134 m above sea level. And if you plan to visit, you should know that in summer it is very hot (temperatures can reach 40 degrees and above) and in addition, the humidity is very high. The winter months are much more pleasant.
Oil is not the point
Bahrain’s strategic location, in the heart of the Persian Gulf, has attracted settlers since the dawn of history. Thus, for example, there is evidence for the existence of the Dilmon culture, an ancient culture whose people weakened the trade routes between Aram Nahariya and western India today. Goods such as ivory, gems, beams and pearls passed through these roads, which were dumped from the Gulf waters off the coast of Bahrain for thousands of years. Remains of this fascinating culture can be seen at several sites in the west of the island of Bahrain as well as in the National Museum located in the capital (see below).
Today, like its neighbors in the Persian Gulf, Bahrain is prospering economically, but unlike them, its economy is not primarily oil-based, as local oil reserves run out. The economy relies largely on investments by international companies, which have established bases in the country, as well as on industry, tourism and banking. Since 2004, Bahrain has hosted Formula One races at the Sahir Racecourse in the south of the country. Although the sale of alcohol is not prohibited by law, winning the prestigious race is celebrated with a local non-alcoholic beverage instead of champagne…
Bahrain is a Muslim country, and Sharia serves as the basis for laws. Freedom of religion is enshrined in the constitution, which states that everyone is allowed to act as he sees fit in matters of religion and worship, although this is not always reflected in reality. The small Jewish community, numbering only a few dozen people, lives in peace with its Muslim neighbors. The Great Synagogue closed many years ago, today members of the congregation meet for prayers during the holidays in a small building in the heart of the market of the capital Manama. The relatively good condition of the Jews can be learned from the fact that some of them previously served in the Bahraini parliament and from the fact that for five years, until 2013, Bahraini’s ambassador to the United States was Jewish businesswoman and politician Huda Ezra Nono.
What to see and do in Bahrain?
When the skies between Israel and the Gulf states open up and it is possible to enter them with an Israeli passport, here are some things you can see and do in Bahrain:
The capital of Bahrain, located in the northeast of the island of Bahrain, is the largest city in the country (about 155,000 inhabitants) and its economic, cultural and financial center. The city is divided into several areas: the port, the old city and the market and the modern city that is characterized by iconic skyscrapers. One of the favorite places for tourists is The market, A maze of alleys south of the ornate and impressive gate, Bab Al Bahrain. The market sells everything, and cheaply: hookahs, spices, appliances, clothes and more. If you prefer a different kind of shopping, you will be happy to find that Manama also has modern malls with prestigious international brands, one of the most luxurious of which is The Avenues Mall.
Manama is also home to the largest and most successful museum in the country, Bahrain National Museum. The museum, housed in a postmodernist building on the waterfront, displays archeological, historical and ethnographic items alongside works of art. Don’t miss a stop at the museum’s café, with a terrace overlooking the bay.
Mukhark and the Pearl Road
Muharraq, the third largest city in the country, is located on an island of the same name, north of the central island. It can be reached by traveling on a bridge connecting the two islands or by ferry departing from the National Museum area to the Halat Bu Maher neighborhood, on the outskirts of Muharrq. In the neighborhood stands fortress Bu Maher, Built in the 19th century and from which there is a great view of the Menama skyline. But that’s not the only reason to get to it.
The fort is part ofThrough the pearls, A UNESCO World Heritage Site, consisting of 17 buildings (homes of wealthy merchants, shops, a mosque and a fortress) and three oyster deposits in the sea. This is a fascinating testimony to the pearl quarrying industry that flourished here from the second century AD to the 1930s. A time when the natural pearls of the Persian Gulf lost global leadership in favor of Japan’s artificial pearls. Shape the economic and cultural identity of the islanders. “
In recent years, Bahrain has been trying to recapture a share of the international pearl market, while unlike other places, Bahrain pearls are of natural origin. The sea around Bahrain is home to seven different species of oysters that produce pearls, most of them white, but there are also pink, silver, gray and even black pearls.
From Muharrq depart Diving tours following the pearls, A unique experience even for experienced divers. The tours, which include scuba diving accompanied by local guides, last between two and five hours and are designed for international dive license holders, although there are also guided dives for beginners.
And if you already have a sea, you will probably want to spend time on the shores of Bahrain as well. The developed beaches are not many and some have become private beaches of hotels. One of the most pleasant beaches is in Moharark – Marassi Beach offers a wide and clean sandy strip, with children’s play facilities, water sports and food stalls. The beach is very suitable for families.
From the Dilmon culture, which existed in Bahrain between 2200 and 1750 BC, some fascinating remains remain. Prominent among them are burial mounds located in the west of the island of Bahrain. The area, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contains over 10,000 such mounds, some of them extremely high and impressive. Not only the sheer quantity of tombs is admirable, but also the quality of the details typical of the period which have been well preserved for thousands of years.
As befits an affluent Gulf state, Bahrain also boasts prestigious artificial islands. The Amwaj Islands, located off the coast of Muharraq Island, are used as luxury residences and resorts. There are several hotels here, including those belonging to international chains. The islands are connected to Muhark by roads built over the water. Apart from visiting the islands themselves, you can set out on a speedboat cruise that surrounds them as well as diving tours.
Another artificial island, which is not part of the Amwaj Islands, is located between the island of Bahrain and the island of Muharrq. The island, named after Bahrain Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman, is very popular with families, mainly thanks to its pleasant park.
And if we already mentioned families, if you are traveling with children or teenagers, you will surely be happy to spend a few hours at The Lost Paradise of Dilmun, a large and invested water park located about half an hour drive south of Manama – a coveted attraction in such a hot country.
Photos in the article: Shatterstock, opening image – Manama Skyline, Bahrain Capital | Photo: Vinod V Chandran / Shutterstock.com
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