Day 1 Part 2 covers Al Fateh Grand Mosque, Muharraq Island, Central and North West Bahrain.
From the opened window of our apartment, cold winter breeze infiltrates, rubs our face. Bahrain is just yet to wake up. Hardly any car seen spews carbon monoxide on the road. Meanwhile, on the dining table, the leftovers from Iskenderun Grills last night still good both in quality and quantity. Fortunately the apartment has microwave, oven and utensils. So that was it. Another Turkish meal to prop our energy until lunch time.
8. Al Fateh Grand Mosque
Our first stop on the way to Muharraq. The mosque is situated only 400m west of our apartment. It is the largest place of worship in Bahrain. The mosque was built by the late Sheikh Isa ibn Salman Al Khalifa in 1987. It is named after Ahmed Al Fateh, the conqueror of Bahrain. The architecture of the mosque is characterized by two minarets and one big 24-m diameter fiberglass dome. With 100mx75m the mosque can accommodate up to 7,000 worshippers at a time. Al-Fateh now includes the new National Library which opened to the public in 2006.
Free. Open from 8.30am. Closed during prayer times.
From Al Fateh Grand Mosque, we went to another island, Muharraq. Muharraq is a large island (the third largest) off the northern-east tip of Bahrain. It is named after Muharraq City, the former capital of Bahrain. The island is home to Bahrain International Airport (that occupies the top half of the island), Arad Fort, and Shaikh Isa Bin Ali House. Connected with Manama through 3 main causeways, Muharraq seems a world away from the modern Bahrain. While Manama features what a 21st-century city should be, Muharraq still preserves an old-world sense and allure.
Many elements in Muharraq contribute to the feeling of time standing still here. It offers some fine examples of old Arabian architecture, traditional shopping areas, narrow and winding lanes, ancient windtowers, old houses with its sculpted door, and stained-glass windows.
We let ourselves lost in narrow lanes to see the real Muharraq, to streets that named with number in thousands, to alleys that snaked around and squeezed among old houses.
10. Arad Fort
One of the well known landmark in Muharraq is Arad Fort. The Fort is a 15th century fort though there is no firm evidence of the precise date of construction. It was built in a typical Arab style, and extensively renovated using traditional local materials.
It is located adjacent to the strategic waterways between Bahrain Island and Muharraq Island. It is believed that the fort was used by the Omanis during their brief occupation of Bahrain in 1800.
The fort enjoys picturesque view as its location is on the edge of the bay opposite Bahrain International Airport.
You may want to stroll over its vast esplanade and climb the steps to the observation towers. The fort is illuminated at night and the view is magnificent.
Entry: 200 fills (look for a small ticket hut on your left as you enter the fort from parking lot)
11. Sheikh Isa bin Ali House and Mosque
Sheikh Isa was the King’s great-great-grandfather, was ruler from 1869 to 1932.
Built in 1800 and used as a residence until early 1900s, Sheikh Isa bin Ali house provides a glimpse of royal life in the 19th century and is an excellent example of functioning old architecture using traditional materials such as sea rock, plaster, lime and palm trunks. The house is notable for its functioning wind towers, early form of air conditioning in this area where sweltering heat is a part of life. The house has 3 internal courtyards that are surrounded by archways.
Other nearby attractions:
– Sheikh Isa bin Ali Mosque
– Bait Sayadi (Pearl Merchant’s House) – not visited.
12. Al Ghous Corniche overlooking Shaikh Isa bin Salman Highway
While entering Muharraq from Manama, two identical sails on cable stayed bridge(?) on Shaikh Isa bin Salman Highway stroke us. The bridge links Manama and old Muharraq. Now as we left Muharraq back to Manama, we managed to make a photo stop for picture with this bridge as a background. Quite stunning view across the water!
13. Isa Town
Isa Town (Madinat ‘Isa) is a middle class suburb in Bahrain in the north central part of the country. The name Isa refers to Isa ibn Salman Al Khalifah, the ruler of Bahrain from 1961 to 1999. Isa Town largely comprises affluent newly constructed villas, and is home to many members of Bahrain’s educated middle classes. Isa Town is famous for the traditional marketplace (commonly known as Souk Al Haraj or the flea market, or Iranian Market). Isa Town also houses most of the private schools in Bahrain.
Rapid development is obvious in this town, as we entered the town on the way to Bahrain Yacht Club. Road diversions due to road enlargement, and interchange constructions caused quite stressful driving experiences for us.
14. Bahrain Yacht Club
Always make sure they still operate. Contact before heading! This best travel tips is again derived from the same experience like we had in Istanbul (Turk Balloon). Well we actually called them but no answer. Our original plan was to go for a dolphin watching trip; unfortunately they no longer arrange such trip.
Otherwise the club offers a beach, swimming pool, restaurant, café. The club also offers a diving and sailing school.
Located at Sitra, next to Al Bander Resort.
15. Riffa Fort
Shaikh Salman Bin Ahmed Fateh Fort is its formal name but it’s commonly known as Riffa Fort, for its location in south of Riffa. Built in 1812 (though believed the fort was built on the ruins of a castle dating back to 1698), the fort enjoys a spectacular vantage point that offers a good photo opportunity. It looks down on vast valley (Hununaiyah Valley) that surprisingly has oil wells! and as far as nearby town.
The fort is being renovated, repainted when we paid a visit.
16. Al Jasra Handicraft Center and Al Jasra House
Al Jasra is located on west of Bahrain; it is an area on your right as you start entering Bahrain main island from Causeway.
Here we visited Al Jasra Handicraft Center and Al Jasra House. The center houses several rooms for traditional handicraft making and showcase such as cloth weaving, palm weaving, pottery, and woodworks. Items can be purchased at the gift shop at the centre. Entry to this shady complex is free.
Al Jasra House is only 300m from Handicraft Center. This is the late Shaikh Isa’s birthplace, in 1933. The house was built in 1907 from local materials. One of the several rooms in this house was used to drain juice from dates. Dates used to be stacked in palm-woven baskets and left to ripen. The weight would make the dates at the bottom gradually relinquish their nectar which would then be piped into jars and used for cooking.
Entrance is 200 fills.
17. Saar Settlement and Burial Mounds
The settlement dates from 2000BC. An entire village (measuring 100mx150m) from that period has been dug out; revealing an amazing episode of Bahrain’s history. The village once had a very organized way of life with well-ordered roads, houses with courtyards and a central marketplace.
The vast area of burial mounds (some 170,000 burial mounds; believed to be the largest prehistoric cemetery in the world) were built during Dilmun, Tylos, Helenistic periods (2000-4000 years old). It was said that the mounds originally extended all the way from Saar down to south to Zallaq (an area about 15km long), thousands of them removed as a part of new roads and houses development.
Later in Bahrain National Museum I understand that each mound contained a stone-built compartment which formed a grave for a person buried in the foetal position along with various elements seemingly believed to be considered necessary in the next world.
18. Painted Village
From Saar we headed north-northeast to Karbabad village. Just next to Bahrain Fort, lies a row of houses covered in brightly colored mural. The painting left no space: be it wall, door, TV dish, water tank and even air conditioning unit. Quite entertaining. Take a stop for a photo.
Side Note: Ashura Day in Bahrain
When heading to Bahrain Fort we passed an area where every house was displaying a black flag and big banners hung over the road, with quotes from the Shia Martyr Hussein. Later when back to Doha I come to understand that all this is in preparation for Ashura, which marks the day the Prophet’s grandson was killed in the battle of Kerbala in present-day Iraq. In 2010, the Ashura Day is celebrated on December 16. Bahrain’s shiah population is a majority in the country of 81.2% Muslim. It is estimated that Muslim population is approximately 33% Sunni and 66% Shia (with other estimates at almost 80%). In 2008, Bahrain’s population stood at 1.05 million.
19. Bahrain Fort (Qal’at al-Bahrain)
This impressive fort is a 16th-century Portuguese fort but excavations at the site reveal six other distinct eras of the place, dating back to the Dilmun era, or around 3000 BC during which time it may have been the island’s capital. You will be impressed by its mighty walls, moat (a deep, broad ditch, either dry or filled with water, that surrounds a castle, building or town) and formidable towers.
The Bahrain Fort was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Qal`at al-Bahrain is a typical tell — an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation. The strata of the 300×600-metre tell testify to continuous human presence from about 2300 BC to the 16th century AD. About 25% of the site has been excavated revealing structures of different types: residential, public, commercial, religious and military. They testify to the importance of the site as a trading port over the centuries. On the top of the 12m high mound, there is the impressive Qal`at al-Burtughal (Portuguese fort), which gave the whole site its name, qal`a, meaning fort. The site was the capital of the Dilmun, one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region. It contains the richest remains inventoried of this civilization, which was hitherto only known from written Sumerian references. (Wikipedia)
Entry is free. Expect to see a very friendly guard! As you enter and sweep your sight to the right you will see very contrast layer of scenes: fort and its barren desert ground, a layer of palm dates trees, and Manama skyline/skyscrapers.
More photos in my Bahrain 2010 album in Facebook
Next: Wahoo Water Park, Bahrain WTC and Malls