Qal’at al-Bahrain is the archaeological site of a port which was once the capital of the Dilmun civilization, and served more recently as a Portuguese fort. It is a typical tell – an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation.
The hill shows almost continuous remains from ca. 2300 BC to the 16th century BC. They span the Dilmun, Tylos, later Islamic societies and the Portuguese period. This makes it a rare archeological and historical reference site in Eastern Arabia and the Gulf region.
The site gets its name from Qal`at al-Burtughal (Portuguese fort). In the early 1500s, the Portuguese saw Bahrain as a key point to protect their trade routes between India, Africa and Europe. They invaded the island and set up military base at the Bahrain Fort. They strengthened the already existing fortress and erected new stone towers.
The site was only rediscovered in 1954. Restoration was started in 1987.
Visit January 2011
Bahrain Fort is located on the outskirts of Manama, with good views over the sea and to the highrise buildings of the Bahraini capital. To my surprise there were dozens of other European tourists around. Most of them Germans, busloads full of them, maybe they were from a cruise ship. They however did only a quick tour of the site, so I had most of it to myself anyway. I started with a circular walk outside of the walls. The edges of the terrain are covered with some pretty palm groves, which have been in use since ancient times.
The fort itself looks almost over-restored. Compare my photos for example with the one taken by Paul Tanner in 2005 (see his review below). It seems that it has been white-washed during the final phase of restoration. The fortifications look like they always do (I do like the straight lines of the walls and the shape of the turrets). The interior holds a remarkably large open courtyard. The surrounding structures are in ruins and one can only guess what they were used for.
There’s a small museum on site, that displays a lot if items (pottery, stamp-seals) that I had already seen earlier in the day in the more extensive National Museum of Bahrain. It was only there that I found out that there is an entrance fee to the Fort - after arriving I had just walked up and around it without being bothered by anyone (the ticket lady hides herself in the museum). The complex has a pretty good museum café too, where I enjoyed a salad on the terrace while overlooking the fortress and the harbour.
More photos can be found in the Picture Gallery
|jenny Buratta (uk):|
I remember what we called the Portuguese fort from my childhood as my father was stationed in Bahrein in the late 1960s and the archeologist Geffrey Bibby and his Danish team were exploring sites in both Bahrein and on the mainland.As teenagers we would go out either to the fort or to the burial mounds and do what was called 'pottery picking' returning with jars of broken bangle, beads, pottery shards and 3 stone 'dilmun weights' which turned out to be portuguese cannon balls of a much later period.Also visited the Tree of Life on several occasions. The freedom to roam and pick up whatever you found in those days are long gone and the fort itself is unrecognisable now but my facination with the country remains.
| Date posted: April 2011|
|Paula Diaz (Spain):|
During my first visit in Bahrain (I am from Spain) my husband, Bahraini, brought me here. He told me about its history-I had no idea that the Portuguese had been in Bahrain. I found it amazing. There were many tourists, both foreigners and locals, so I imagine is quite an important spot in the region. What amazed me the most whas the fact that there is no entrance fee and that it was very clean and well preserved. It is a must-see in Bahrain. The views from the fort are awesome! Thank you Abbas for such a wonderful day!
| Date posted: July 2009|
It was my first day in Bahrain. I was going for a field trip with my friends. Then we came to this Fort. We went inside and the boys stayed close to us in case we get lost. It was dark. Then we came to the name of the fort. It was Qal'at al-Bahrain. It was such a beautiful sight that we took pictures all over. I loved the Fort. I said "Whoever bought this fort is a lucky man." Guess who it was? It was Fadhel. I bought it from him. I took care of it. It was finally mine. I loved it like a baby.
|Rodney Burnett (US):|
I visited both the Portuguese Fort and the Tree of Life. What I found most interesting is that I had to get on the internet to find any info about either of the sites. I am in the military and had heard from some of my friends stationed in Bahrain that the local legend says if you don't visit the tree of life while you are there, you will be back. Well, I didn't want to come back so me and a couple of my buddies headed out with a local driver in search of the Tree. There is absolutely nothing out there but a couple of farms and that tree.It is a big very old, grafitti covered Mesquite tree and there were local kids hanging on it. We took pictures and departed in search of the Fort. We found it a much more interesting place to visit, however, there were no signs or pamphlets or information booth or anything to tell us about the Fort. It was obvious that it had undergone extensive reconstruction and we were impressed to the point that we were comparing it to Castles we had seen while in England...but if you're looking for a history lesson, you had better go to the museum.
|Paul Tanner (UK):|
When we were visiting Bahrain in early 2005 the fort was undergoing the final touches to a refurbishment so it was not totally surprising to see it receiving inscription in that July as Bahrain’s first WHS. In the (very fine and “not to be missed”!!) Bahrain National Museum we saw earlier photos of the fort and “reconstruction” might be a better word to describe the activity. Large car parks, “interpretive signs” and pathways designed for disabled access show that the government intends this to be a significant “visitor attraction”.
In fact tiny Bahrain has a number of interesting historical sights and is well worth a couple of days with rent-a-car to explore them (don’t even think of bothering with taxis or public transport as rent-a-car from the airport is so cheap and easy). In our opinion the Fort is not the best of these but it is pleasantly situated on the coast a few kms away from the centre of Manama on a spot which has been inhabited for over 4000 years and should certainly be visited if you are in Bahrain. As well as the heavily reconstructed Portuguese fort there are on the same site excavated remains (albeit not very extensive) of “cities” going back to the Bronze Age “Dilmun” civilisation which was centred on Bahrain. Bahrain Island is well served with underground springs and was regarded as a “paradise” in ancient times. The religion of Dilmun was centred on the Sumerian god “Enki” - “god of sweet waters under the earth” and another of Bahrain’s Tentative List sites, the Barbar Temple, only a few kms on from the fort, was dedicated to this god. There is not a lot to see so just take it in “en passant”
We preferred the unbelievable 40000+ mounds at the A’Ali burial field and the Saar “Heritage Park” (both are on Bahrain’s Tentative List). From its name this latter may have “better” things planned for it but at the moment is a wonderfully unadvertised and unspoilt excavation of a Dilmun town (it wasn’t even mentioned in my Lonely Planet and we only found it because it was on the WHS Tentative list). It is staffed by a single bored policeman who seemed very pleased to see anybody!
All of these sites could be seen in one day together with the oilfields and the somewhat disappointing “Tree of Life” which is having its life snuffed out of it by locals swinging on its branches. Give the museum a full half day and then take in the old Arab houses on Muharraq.
| Date posted: July 2005|
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