The treasures of Bahrain

Despite its small landmass and population, Bahrain has a rich cultural heritage dating to about 5,000 years back. The splendour of its ancient civilization is revealed in a wealth of historical treasures housed in its museums.

The Muharraq Museum is a small, one-storey building; unimpressive perhaps at first glance, but containing many fascinating archaeological relics which trace the story of the island’s past. These relics are well-illustrated by texts in Arabic and English and also by drawings and photographs.

In the manuscript section, many beautiful old copies of the Quran are on view, with fine examples of centuries-old Arabic calligraphy. Evidence of Bahrain’s ancient international trade can be seen in a rare display of Dilmun seals.

For those who enjoy learning more about traditional Bahraini life, the ethnographic section of the museum contains displays of traditional costumes, cooking utensils, a reconstruction of a ::Ikitchen, as well as models of pearl divers and their boats. Much visited by local schoolchildren, this is a popular attraction.

The construction of the causeway which links Bahrain with Saudi Arabia, and the building of the new ::I on the island’s West Coast presented colossal problems to Bahraini archaeologists. Bulldozers unearthed thousands of tumuli (burial mounds), which are thought to date back to the Bronze Age, and it was a race against time to explore them before they were destroyed for ever. Sketches were made and many treasures were unearthed and removed to safety — treasures which include pottery, skeletons, tools and other artifacts. These were stored until the completion of the new museum complex on King Faisal Highway.

Bahrain’s comparatively new Heritage Centre was opened on National Day in December 1984. It is situated across the causeway in Manama, and can be found on Government Road in the old law court building. Modeled on the style of a Bahraini house, the Centre contains many artifacts of a bygone era, and seeks to portray traditional occupations and pastimes. The exhibits are housed in a number of rooms, all leading from a central, open-air courtyard. Falconry, pearl-diving and boating all have their own displays.

Rooms on the Centre’s first floor reconstruct traditional decor, which has practically disappeared from today’s Bahraini houses. The typical kitchen, with its copper pots and pans and its suspended storage shelf, known as almurfa, is well worth a visit. Al-Ma’isha, the living-room, is also an interesting area, but the ::I is, without doubt, the wedding bedroom. Decorated with mirrors and huge coloured glass ornaments; this would have been the best room in the bride’s father’s house. In pride of place stands the huge, four-poster bed, with its wooden canopy draped with a richly decorated awning. In a room such as this, the bridal couple would stay for two weeks after the wedding, until the gift day (adiya).

Other exhibits in this fascinating museum include a display of weapons and a collection of historic photographs, which show the many changes that have taken place in Bahrain over the past half-century.

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