Two highlights of Bahrain: Qal’at al-Bahrain and Bahrain National Museum

It’s early evening in the village surrounding Qal’at al-Bahrain. The creatively decorated houses remind me of pictures in fairy-tales, especially through the filter of the setting sun. Five horsemen appear out of the dusk in front of the silhouette of a large 16th century Portuguese fort. This is home to Iranians, says Aziz, my guide for the evening. This is a shia village.

Qal'at al-Bahrain

Qal’at al-Bahrain

In the Kingdom of Bahrain and on UNESCOs World Heritage List since 2005, Qal’at al-Bahrain has been inhabited for 4 500 years – visible through 12 metres of layers. The tell (mound) has been partially excavated and various buildings have appeared: houses, shops, churches, military installations. This Arabian/Persian Gulf port city was capital of the Dilmun civilization, trading partner of ancient Mesopotamia.

On top of the tell is the Portuguese fort, the qala’a. As darkness descends, the old battlements seems a bit eerie. I edge towards the lit-up areas. Aziz used to work as a guard here at the fort. After locking the heavy wooden doors for the night, he was often the only one about. All night long. A veritable feasting ground for the imagination, I’m sure. Although he appears to be a very sensible, no nonsense guy.

Qal'at al-Bahrain Qal'at al-Bahrain

There is a good museum on the site, which we barely make before closing time. After the slightly oppressive heat, it’s pleasant to enter the cool stone building. Inside are artefacts from the various layers of human habitation.

Qala'at al-Bahrain

An unusual practice in Dilmum was sacrificing snakes. In this area, snakes were associated with fertility, long life and divine protection. See the slightly blurred snake in the bowl below?

Qal'at al-Bahrain

Bahrain National Museum

For an even closer look at Bahraini history, I’ll warmly recommend Bahrain National Museum. Located in a large building by the waterfront, it’s high-ceilinged, light and airy and has wonderful exhibits of daily life in Bahrain through the ages.

Bahrain National Museum

The dioramas are life-like with cheerful, colourfully dressed women and somewhat more serious-looking men. I enjoyed walking around and looking at a Bahraini wedding…

Bahrain National Museum

…and at scenes from the souk – the spice seller, the barber…

Bahrain National Museum Bahrain National Museum

Bahrain has a long history of pearl fishing, well presented in the museum.

Bahrain National Museum

My youngest daughter is weary of dioramas, or of the ‘false doll-people’, as she calls them. They’re too eerily life-like for her taste. I quite like them, they make a museum come alive.

What do you think?

unesco logo

Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun is UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

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  1. 2 Highlights of Bahrain — TravelBark (beta) 14 September 2011 at 2128 - Reply

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  2. Italian Notes 15 September 2011 at 0833 - Reply

    Interesting introduction to an unusual tourist destination. Thanks.

  3. David Bennett 15 September 2011 at 0949 - Reply

    Until now I didn’t know that the word ‘tell’ stretches across languages in the Middle East.

    The ‘Tel’ in Tel Aviv in Israel also means ‘mound’, and there are other ‘tel’s such as Tel Arad.

    The word was described to me as meaning ‘the rubbish tip created by living in a place’ – which is kind of poetic.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 September 2011 at 1149 - Reply

      @David – That’s very interesting – but not surprising, I suppose. Arabic and Hebrew have many similarities. And I agree, that is poetic in a sort of casual “such is life”-kind of way.

  4. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy 15 September 2011 at 1558 - Reply

    Fascinating post! I love reading about some of the countries that aren’t necessarily top tourist destinations. And learn about intriguing things like snake sacrifice. I love the fake human figures in the museum!

  5. Christopher 15 September 2011 at 1607 - Reply

    Very informative. I’d be afraid of the dioramas too!

  6. Marie R. 15 September 2011 at 1617 - Reply

    I really enjoyed this article and reading about a country I know little about. One doesn’t hear much about Bahrain. You go to the most unusual places!

  7. Eileen Ludwig 15 September 2011 at 1620 - Reply

    Dioramas are interesting way to see a city or life style without being on the streets

  8. JoAnna 15 September 2011 at 1648 - Reply

    I never would have thought to visit Bahrain, but it looks fascinating!

  9. Louise 15 September 2011 at 1703 - Reply

    I was flying with Gulf Air from London to Australia once and we had a quick stopover in Bahrain, only enough to go into Manama for a few hours. I’ve often wondered if I should go back and explore some more. Thank you for this article, it’s obviously more to Bahrain than I thought. I saw old Portuguese forts in Oman, they’re so interesting and a little eerie, especially at night.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 September 2011 at 1740 - Reply

      @Louise – I’m glad you took advantage of the stopover to have a quick look at Manama. I did the same with Doha, stopped for about 5 hours I think – certainly not long enough to get a good impression, but perhaps enough to get the slightest feel for a place – and certainly better than nothing. I’ve been meaning to go back to Doha, so perhaps next time I’ll schedule a longer stopover, a few days, at least. These tiny countries on the Arabian peninsula are very interesting in their own, rather unique way.

  10. jenjenk 15 September 2011 at 1754 - Reply

    yeah, those kind of figures in the dioramas still freak me out. 😉

    my friend went to bahrain several years ago and thought it was such a unique place to visit…

  11. Great post detailing an interesting country. The history that must be in Bahrain is amazing.

  12. Grace 15 September 2011 at 2144 - Reply

    I am with your 10 yr old. Every time I see one at a museum I freeze. I feel like their eyes are following me around!

  13. Andrea 15 September 2011 at 2221 - Reply

    I’m of a mixed opionion on the dioramas – they do creep me out but as you said, they also make a museum come alive. If the costumes are good, I’d take them over a blank room.

  14. ayngelina 15 September 2011 at 2246 - Reply

    As I was reading this post I was just thinking about how creepy those people look. I am so with your daughter on this one.

  15. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler 15 September 2011 at 2355 - Reply

    Bahrain sounds like such an interesting place. Thank you for opening my eyes to a destination that I knew nothing about. Those doll people do look kinda creepy.

  16. adventureswithben 16 September 2011 at 0136 - Reply

    False Doll People – that’s funny!

  17. Vera Marie Badertscher 16 September 2011 at 0149 - Reply

    I’m fine with dioramas with people. Last ones I saw were at the Hector pier in Nova Scotia. It is known as the Scottish Mayflower, and they had a scene of a woman weeping as people around her in the bowels of the boat suffered on their way to the promise of a new land. Yes that could be rather spooky!

  18. Lisa 16 September 2011 at 2017 - Reply

    I enjoyed reading about Bahrain – nice to read about the destinations less traveled. I’d have to agree with your daughter about the “false doll people” – there’s always something a bit creepy about their eyes so I avoid looking too closely at their faces.

  19. The Travel Chica 16 September 2011 at 2137 - Reply

    I think I side with your daughter on this one.

  20. Jessica 16 September 2011 at 2146 - Reply

    Sometimes I really like dioramas, and sometimes there eyes seem shifty, so I agree with your daughter. I think my imagining might be fueled by watching Night at the Museum. 🙂

  21. Sonja 17 September 2011 at 0121 - Reply

    I think they’re a little creepy – but I never liked wax museums either. You sure are touring an interesting place.

  22. Camels & Chocolate 17 September 2011 at 0157 - Reply

    I love posts that highlight a place I know absolutely nothing about! Though funny enough, I was clicking through my friend’s correspondent portfolio today and she had just written a couple news pieces on Bahrain, too. Even more random when a place I know nothing about surfaces TWICE in one day!

  23. Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 September 2011 at 0342 - Reply

    Camels & Chocolate – Three times and it’s a sign you should go… 😉

  24. Green Beauty Girl 17 September 2011 at 0519 - Reply

    I like” false doll people”. It helps me to see the true history of the time period.

  25. Technosyncratic 17 September 2011 at 1553 - Reply

    Wow, 4500 years? We just visited the “Silent City” in Malta that used to be the old capital and is completely walled in, and I think it goes back 4000 years. The history is just incredible.

  26. Sailor 17 September 2011 at 1838 - Reply

    Beautiful pictures. In fact I was never interested in traveling to the Middle East and never been to that part except Dubai in transit. Seems like you have some amazing stories to tell.

  27. Abby 17 September 2011 at 1923 - Reply

    They are sort of creepy! But so interesting… Bahrain has been in the news so much lately, I enjoyed this post.

  28. InsideJourneys 18 September 2011 at 0304 - Reply

    Bahrain looks pretty interesting. Would definitely visit.
    I’m with your daughter. They do look spooky.
    Thanks for this post.

  29. Arti 18 September 2011 at 1032 - Reply

    Loved the description of not such a famed tourist destination…
    Looks good, the museum really appeals, well made…
    Have a fabulous sunday:)

  30. Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 September 2011 at 1049 - Reply

    Thanks for reading, everyone. Cat is very happy with your comments. My attempts at rationalisations – “it’s only in your head”, etc – will forever fall on deaf ears now 🙂

  31. Laurel 23 September 2011 at 1719 - Reply

    I’m with your daughter on the dioramas as well but I love the lit up village.

  32. Abu Dhabi Expert 17 February 2012 at 0524 - Reply

    We lived in Bahrain for two years! It is constantly growing and was a great place. So many activities for the kids. Sorry to hear about all the troubles there in the last year or so.

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