The smallest of the Gulf nations, Bahrain is also one of its most established, most liberal and has
some of its most significant historical sites. It was the first Arabian nation to discover oil in 1932,
and gained its independence from Britain in 1971, the same year as Qatar and the UAE. Since 1986
it has been linked by causeway to Saudi Arabia, resulting in its tourism numbers skyrocketing. The
country's name "Bahar-ayn" is Arabic for "two seas".
We visited Bahrain in December 2011 for a long weekend whilst living in the UAE, using the budget airline
flyDubai. Our hotel was the newly opened Elite Crystal Hotel in Juffair, built on reclaimed land
and handy for the centre of Manama as well as the airport. We rented a car for the weekend which
allowed us to explore most of the island very rapidly, and even drive halfway across the causeway
to Saudi Arabia.
Qal'at al-Bahrain or Bahrain Fort was the seat of the Dilmun people, and in its current form dates back
over 1500 years. It is remarkably complete and one of the most comprehensive archeological sites
in the Gulf, certainly the best fort I've seen along its shores.
The shallow seas of Bahrain lap up to the edge of the fort, surrounded by palm trees. The fort is a
Unesco World Heritage site.
From the walls of the fort the skyline of Manama, Bahrain's capital, is clearly visible. Like the rest
of the Gulf states (with the possible exception of Oman), Bahrain has rapidly developed a modern
thrusting skyline over the last ten years.
On the trail of more Dilmun sites of interest, we passed through villages lined with black flags outside
of Manama such as this, the village of Saar.
South of Saar, the remains of the Dilmun Temple and the Saar Burial Mounds are open for exploration.
These walls are parts of the Dilmun village.
The King Fahd Causeway links Bahrain to the Arabian Peninsula at the Saudi Arabian city of Dammam, and
at 16 miles long is one of the world's longest maritime road crossings. It opened in 1986 and may
be joined by a similar causeway linking the other side of Bahrain to the state of
including a high speed railway line eventually intended to run from
Halfway across the King Fahd Causeway is the national frontier between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Each
side has an observation tower and a McDonald's, no less. Naturally we didn't attempt to cross into
This is probably as close as I'm going to get to visiting Saudi Arabia, although we could of course
have visited the restaurant…
Bahrain has been producing oil since the 1930s, and the southern part of the country is littered with
nodding donkey pumps such as this one near the oil museum. Also known as pumpjacks, beam pumps or
horsehead pumps, they are used to extract shallow formation oil where there is insufficient pressure
to lift it to the surface naturally.
Bahrain Oil Museum explores the country's recent economic history and fortunes, and is appropriately
sited right in the middle of the giant chemistry set that is southern Bahrain.
Bahrain's first oil well is an attraction in itself, and is revered to the point of being reproduced
on the local banknotes. Oil first flowed here in 1931, but at the time of my visit the gauges clearly
read zero bar, and the flowline was blinded off. I don't know whether it can still produce.
We drove around the southern part of Bahrain on a Friday afternoon, hunting for the Tree of Life. I've
never seen quite such an integration of life, the land and industry as there is here, with oil and
gas pipelines literally laid straight over the sand and ducking under the occasional road.
Driving around this central plain of Bahrain with all the locals zooming about on quad bikes was like
negotiating a public refinery. I was very surprised at the lack of protection or security around
the pipelines, pumps, wellheads and flare stacks dotting the landscape.
Eventually we found our way to the Tree of Life, a single piece of greenery in the middle of the baked
Bahraini desert. It is something of a local mystery how the tree continues to thrive within this
arid landscape, hence its name and popularity as a local beauty spot.
An early evening shot of cliff faces and the moon in southern Bahrain.
Sunset over the Tree of Life. The concept of a Tree of Life appears in many religious and mythological
texts, however this is one of few actual trees credited with this title the world over.
Back in Manama, and a visit to the Al Fateh Grand Mosque. Constructed in 1987, the mosque is unusual
in that its dome is built entirely of fibreglass.
Bahrain National Museum turned out to be a very interesting place to visit, and starts you off with
a giant satellite image of the entire country in the museum's lobby, allowing us to trace our routes
driving through the country the previous day. It also has a good exhibition called the Hall of Graves...
The oldest parts of Manama city are in the area of Muharraq, on the same island as the airport. This
is Isa bin Ali House, the residence of the former Sheikh Isa bin Ali al Khalifa and is now open as
Traditional doorway inside Isa bin Ali House, with Islamic geometric artworks carved into the walls
and forming the windows.
Siyadi House is also in Muharraq, and was built by one of the pearl merchant's during Bahrain's golden
pearling era. The house also includes a mosque, with the minaret on the left.
An enormous interactive book forms one of the attractions at the Sheikh Ebrahim Center for Culture and
Research in Muharraq. I spent some time flipping through its digital pages.
Bab al Bahrain is literally the gateway to the country, at the time it was built this was where the
boats unloaded at the quayside. These days it still serves as the entrance to the souk, however following
recent land reclamation the sea is now some distance away.
Bahrain World Trade Center was completed in 2008 and is one of the world's most sustainable skyscrapers
on account of the three large wind turbines integrated into its design.
Our final night in Bahrain was marked by a lunar eclipse, which I spotted whilst photographing the World
Trade Center buildings in the previous photo.