After a day on our own, it was time to get a little more insider help for our adventures in Bahrain. We met up with Birgit, our host from BGIS, so she could show us around a little more.
Our first stop was the Muharraq Souk. In a stunning coincidence, the Muharraq Souk can be found on Muharraq Island, just across the bridge from the Manama core.
This bread doesn’t souk at all
With fewer narrow streets and more car access, the Muharraq Souk definitely feels like one that is more focused on daily use in the present, rather than something left over from the past. The highlight for me was definitely stopping at the local bakery for some fresh cheese filled bread. It was delicious and they invited us in to watch them make it; rolled-out and stuck to the inside of a fire oven.
Standing next to the ovens was super hot, so I can only imagine what it feels like in the 50 degree heat of summer.
Ella was more excited by the sweets shop, even if she she wasn’t totally sold on what she got to taste – a traditional Bahraini dessert called Halwa. Not to worry though, she was soon given a lollipop at another shop we visited which she nursed for the rest of the day.
Old is new
From there we headed to the Sheikh Ebrahim Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Centre for Culture & Research. This collection of old houses in Muharraq, the former capital, have been wonderfully restored. Today these buildings serve as small museums and arts and culture venues.
The first house we visited included a beautiful little auditorium. Built into the backroom of an old building and bathed in natural light, it would be a great place to take in a lecture or performance. We got a little taste as we accidentally interrupted a Tunisian opera singer who was checking out the venue in advance of a performance later that night.
The next stop was Kurar House. Featuring a great courtyard, it was established in March 2007 to preserve the dying and unique Bahraini art of Kurar embroidery. This involves four women each playing an integral part of the process for a single garment. Unfortunately, they had just finished when we got there and the video that was playing, while interesting, wasn’t quite as good as the real thing.
The third building that we visited was the Abdullah Al Zayed House for Bahraini Press Heritage and my favourite of the ones we visited. It was another great example of a refurbished older building full of natural light. It also included what might be my dream home office. Pretty much the opposite of my dark basement workspace at home.
Given it was a journalism museum, and that Al Jazeera originated from nearby Qatar, I asked our guide how free the press was in Bahrain. I took her awkward smile and muttered “pretty free” to mean that it’s totally free… except for the subjects that aren’t.
That’s just 3 of the houses restored to date. You can check out a full list of houses here.
Invading the Bahrain Fort
Our last stop of the day was the Bahrain Fort (Qanat al Bahrain). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the tell (an artificial mound) created by successive layers of human occupation, was inhabited from 2300 BCE to the 16th century CE.
The Fort that you can visit today is from the Portuguese but is really just a portion of the full site. With only about 25% excavated to date it’s still an active archaeological site. We were almost the only ones there when we visited, which made it fun to explore.
The top of the fort offered some great views of downtown Manama across the bay. In a way I find the contrast between the old and new a good summary for Bahrain. Where Qatar feels like a city being built, Manama (and Bahrain as a whole) feels more like a city split between the past and the future.
After a busy few days we’ve all, and Ella in particular, earned a little rest and play time. So, tomorrow we’re off to Al Dar Island where we plan to do little but sit on the beach.
Thanks for the tour! Great history!