Qal’at Al-Bahrain: Enter the Fort and Immerse Yourself in the Fascinating History of the Persian Gulf
Bahrain is a small island nation which is in the heart of the Persian Gulf (also known as the Arab Gulf) and has a rich culture and varied history. One of the most important and historic locations in Bahrain is the Qal'at al-Bahrain, an extensive archaeological site which contains traces of various cultures. It bears the remnants of the many empires which occupied the fort and its environs. It is not only a remarkable archaeological site, but the ruins are so well-preserved that they allow visitors to experience the history of the Persian Gulf in a unique way.
Qal’at al-Bahrain – A UNESCO World Heritage Site
The fort is built on the largest tell (artificial mound) in the region. Only a quarter of this man-made mound has been excavated and it is expected to yield significant archaeological finds in the future. The area is a typical tell - a mound that was built up after centuries of human occupation - and for millennia it was an important port city.
The most striking structure at the site is the Portuguese fort that dates from the 15th century and is recognized as one of the most important in the region. The architecture and the design of the fortress are typically Portuguese and the walls are very well-preserved and still impressive after five centuries. This former stronghold gives the site its name, Qal'at al-Bahrain, which in Arabic means the Bahrain fort.
Qal'at al-Bahrain fort. (Denise Krebs/CC BY 2.0)
Some of the rooms built by the Portuguese can be visited. The Portuguese fort is the most prominent building in the archaeological site, but not the only one. Archaeologists have also unearthed what they call a ‘sea-tower’ - probably a lighthouse - from the tell and this is believed to be one of the oldest such constructions found to date. There is also a sea channel near this construction and this demonstrates that this location was a vital maritime center for perhaps millennia.
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Qal’at al-Bahrain is surrounded by a beautiful countryside and date palms. The landscape has a timeless quality and has remained largely unchanged for over 2000 years.
History of Qal'at Al-Bahrain - A Cosmopolitan Center
The history of Qal'at al-Bahrain is a fascinating one. Because of its key location, many nations and civilizations have occupied the site. Bahrain was located on strategic maritime trade networks and this made it significant to many powerful kingdoms and Empires.
Based on an archaeological survey, it is believed that Qal'at al-Bahrain was the capital of the ancient maritime Empire of Dilmun that dominated Eastern Arabia and that it was also an important religious site.
From the 6th century BC to the 3rd century AD, the tell was a crucial center in the Tylos civilization, which was famed for its pearls. Bahrain became a dependency of the Persian Empire and many Achaemenid era finds have been made here.
View from the Qal'at al-Bahrain Fort. (Mohd Azli Abdul Malek/ CC BY 2.0)
After the advent of Islam, the island became part of the Umayyad and Abbasid Empires and it flourished. Qal'at al-Bahrain was also an important center in the Qarmathian Republic, a heretical Islamic sect which conquered much of Eastern Arabia. The fort was occupied by various dynasties who were often influenced by Persia.
The Portuguese entered the Persian Gulf in the 15th century and captured Bahrain and built the fort that still stands. They were eventually expelled by the Persians and local forces.
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The Qal'at al-Bahrain Museum
The fort was the site of remarkably diverse cultures because it was at the cross-roads of the Gulf and received visitors from all over the region and beyond. This is evident in the number of finds made at the tell, including Sumerian, Assyrian, Persian, and many more. The Bahrain government has built a museum near the fort which has exhibits that were excavated from the tell and showcases the fort’s various historical periods - artifacts from every period of the history of the fort and the tell can be seen. In particular it is helping experts to understand the Bronze Age civilizations in the region.
Ruins at Qal'at al-Bahrain. (stepnout /CC BY 2.0)
The Location of Qal'at al-Bahrain
The fort and the archaeological site are located on the north coast of Bahrain and it is 4 miles (6 kms) from Manama, the capital. There is plenty of accommodation near Qal'at al-Bahrain. Admission to the fort is free and there are self-guided audio devices available to visitors. The admission fee for the museum costs only a few Bahrain Dinar, roughly a few cents.
Qal’at al-Bahrain looking at Manama. (stepnout/ CC BY 2.0)
Top image: Qal'at al-Bahrain. Source: Mubarak Fahad /CC BY 2.0
By Ed Whelan
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