After I was done with the experience of the amazing Eid-morning drive from Manama, my days in Bahrain just got a loooooottt more better!
My friend – the same guy who almost drove me to Saudi Arabia and then to a camel farm – was free now, and was raring to show me more sights around Bahrain. I could get a hint of expat pride in him for the country. “Bahrain is much more than the camels and the liberal culture”, he kept saying. And I did believe him. So, in the span of one day, he took it up as his personal mission to take me to 2 diverse spots around Manama.
One was a former capital of the Dilmun civilization and another was home to the largest fiberglass dome in the world. My life is such a contrast!
Qal’at Al-Bahrain – A hotbed of Civilisations
From my hotel in central Manama (which was now packed with tourists, since Eid had finished and the Saudis came pouring into Bahrain in search of booze), I drove with my friend for a short distance. The destination was one of the most popular locations in the whole of Manama.
The Qal’at al-Bahrain fort.
Located at the west end of the Karbabad beach – which seemed to be empty despite the fact that the beach looked very white and sandy – we parked our car near what looked like a government building. I say government building, because the red and white Bahraini flag was hoisted above it. And because it seemed to be empty today, since it was most likely Eid holidays.
Note: I would learn later that this was the Bahrain fort museum, and was closed today. But when open, they provide a audio guide for visiting the Bahrain fort
There was a couple of interesting artworks placed outside the building. They looked like insects, and they appeared to be slightly rusting – blending them perfectly with the russet brown background behind them. But what was missing was a plaque or information board somewhere which would have given us some more light about what exactly these artworks conveyed, or who was the artist.
Starting from the Bahrain fort museum, under the scorching sun, we started exploring the Unesco heritage site of Qal’at al-Bahrain. Unlike what people think, the Qal’at al-Bahrain is not just the name of the fort. It is also the name of the tell on which the fort is situation – a ‘tell‘ being an artificial mound created by multiple layers of occupation in history.
According to archaeological findings, this tell has been occupied from 2300 BC till about 16th century AD. The original inhabitants of the tell were the Dilmun empire, who most probably used this as a trading port. Further inhabitants included Kassites, Greeks and Persians. And the last of the inhabitants – the Portuguese who occupied Bahrain in the middle of the 16th century – built a fort above it. And named it the Qal’at Al-Burtughal (Portuguese fort).
Which is the name that the locals still use for the Qal’at al-Bahrain.
The entry at the Qal’at al-Bahrain was free, and because today was Eid, there were no other tourists in sight. This gave me a perfect opportunity to walk alone under the beautiful archways, and try to perfect my instagram pose. (hint: I failed)
The archways helped to protect me from the unforgiving afternoon sun. But after a half an hour of walking and posing, me and my friend were busted from the temperature. We packed up and walked back to the car.
To sit under the airconditioning of the car for another 20 mins and sip away some water. Thank god it was not Ramadan anymore, and we could drink in public.
Practical Information for Visiting Qal’at Al-bahrain
Location: About 6 km to the west of Manama. Can take a taxi, or an uber to get there.
Entry Fee: Free for public
Operating hours: 8 AM to 8 PM (check this)
Additional notes: Also visit the Bahrain fort museum. While I didn’t get to see this, I am told that it is exceptionally well-maintained.
Further Reading: Have you heard of a capital city that is completely encircled in a castle? Read about misty walks in the small republic of San Marino’s castle city.
The Al Fateh Grand mosque is indeed grand!
From the fort, we drove 10 Km to the east. Towards Manama, and more importantly, towards a grand mosque.
Its not like it was difficult to spot anyway. Riding along the King Faisal highway, there is no way that one could miss out on the giant dome of the Al Fateh Grand mosque. But what I didn’t know, was that this was a giant compound which held much more than just the mosque.
As we entered the complex of buildings, we passed by a few government offices. And also the Isa Cultural center, which is home to the national library of Bahrain. But today being the day after Eid, again, most of these buildings appeared to be closed. Even the library.
But the Al Fateh grand mosque wasn’t fully closed. Only a section of it (the prayer rooms) would turn out to be closed.
The Al Fateh Grand mosque was built in 1987 and named after the founder of Bahrain, Ahmed Al Fateh. It is not only one of the largest mosques in the world, but currently, the dome of the Al Fateh mosque holds the world record for the largest fiberglass dome.
The mosque itself has a capacity to host atleast 7000 worshippers, and is probably one of the most touristy sights in Bahrain. Normally, there would be free tours provided in a variety of languages, providing details of the architecture and the .history behind the mosque.
But not today, because it was the holiday after Eid.
All I could do was walk around the mosque on my own, and click away at the Italian marbles and the Austrian Chandeliers. And it was only when I was leaving, that I found out that Al Fateh had a minor Indian connection too.
After all, the doors were made out of teak wood from India.
Practical Information for Visiting Al-Fateh Grand Mosque
Location: In Juffair, Manama. Next to the King Faisal Highway.
Entry Fee: Free to enter
Operating hours: Open for tours daily between 9AM to 4PM, except Fridays and holidays. Non-muslims are welcome.
Additional notes: Dress appropriately for the mosque.
Further Reading: Check out pictures from all the mosques and churches of Cairo, Egypt.
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