World Heritage in Bahrain

There are two World Heritage Sites in the Kingdom of Bahrain:

– Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

Qal’at al-Bahrain: Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun is an archaeological site comprising four main elements: an archaeological tell (an artificial hill formed over time by successive occupations) adjacent to the northern coast of Bahrain; a sea tower about 1600m North-West of the tell; a sea channel of just under 16 hectares through the reef near the sea tower, and palm-groves.

Qal’at al-Bahrain is an exceptional example of more or less unbroken continuity of occupation over a period of almost 4500 years, from about 2300 BC to the present, on the island of Bahrain. The archaeological tell, the largest known in Bahrain, is unique within the entire region of Eastern Arabia and the Gulf as the most complete example currently known of a deep and intact stratigraphic sequence covering the majority of time periods in Bahrain and the Gulf. It provides an outstanding example of the might of Dilmun, and its successors during the Tylos and Islamic periods, as expressed by their control of trade through the Gulf. These qualities are manifested in the monumental and defensive architecture of the site, the wonderfully preserved urban fabric and the outstandingly significant finds made by archaeologists excavating the tell. The sea tower, probably an ancient lighthouse, is unique in the region as an example of ancient maritime architecture and the adjacent sea channel demonstrates the tremendous importance of this city in maritime trade routes throughout antiquity. Qal’at al-Bahrain, considered as the capital of the ancient Dilmun Empire and the original harbour of this long since disappeared civilisation, was the centre of commercial activities linking the maritime trade between such diverse areas as the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia in the early period (from the 3rd millennium BC to the 1st millennium BC) and China and the Mediterranean in the later period (from the 3rd to the 16th century AD). Acting as the hub for economic exchange, Qal’at al-Bahrain had a very active commercial and political presence throughout the entire region.

– Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy

Harvesting pearls from oyster beds in the Arabian Gulf was a backbone of Bahrain’s economy for millennia. As the best-known source of pearls since ancient times, the Gulf industry reached the apex of its prosperity at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. The wealth of what had become a global trade is reflected in the development of the merchant quarters of Muharraq city. A few distinctive commercial and residential buildings remain as a testimony to this proud but dangerous and demanding economic activity which suffered a sudden and catastrophic demise in the 1930s as a result of the development in Japan of cultured pearls from freshwater mussels.

The property includes seventeen buildings embedded in the urban fabric of Muharraq city, and a part of the seashore at the southern tip of Muharraq Island, from where the boats set off for the oyster beds.

The architectural testimony comprises residential and commercial structures that are tangible manifestations of the major social and economic roles and institutions associated with the pearling society. Most of the structures have survived relatively unaltered since the collapse of the pearl industry in the early 20th century and bear witness to distinctive building traditions that the industry fostered, and particularly their high standard of craftsmanship in timber and plaster. These buildings evoke memories of that industry, its supporting social and economic structures, and of the cultural identity it produced.