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As the Middle East's only island state, Bahrain (مملكة البحرين) is unique from its fellow Gulf nations for its lush environment. The Sumerian civilization saw Bahrain as a holy island, as did the Babylonians. Modern-day musings that it may have been the site of the Garden of Eden perpetuate this image further. In truth, however, development has put the environment under some strain and the land is not quite as lush as it used to be.
Bahrain's long past and involvement in Middle East history saw it pass through Dilmun, Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, Portugese and Persian hands before hitting its stride as an independent nation in the 19th century. Since independence, Bahrain has propelled its economy forward with oil, but has diversified its economic basis, ensuring a long-term stability. Bahrain's modern capital, Manama, highlights the nation's prosperity. Elsewhere, most Bahrainis stick to a fairly traditional, conservative way of life.
From the 6th to 3rd century B.C. Bahrain was included in Persian Empire by Achaemenians, an Iranian dynasty. Bahrain was referred to by the Greeks as "Tylos", the centre of pearl trading, when Nearchus came to discover it serving under Alexander the Great. From the third century B.C. to arrival of Islam in the seventh A.D., Bahrain was controlled by two other Iranian dynasties of Parthians and Sassanids. By about 250 B.C., Parthian dynasty brought the Persian Gulf under their control and extended their influence as far as Oman. Because they needed to control the Persian Gulf trade route, the Parthians established garrisons in the southern coast of Persian Gulf. In the third century A.D., the Sasanids succeeded the Parthians and held area until the rise of Islam four centuries later.
Bahrainis were amongst the first to embrace Islam. The prophet Mohammed ruled Bahrain through one of his representatives, Al-Ala'a Al-Hadhrami. Bahrain embraced Islam in 629. Al Khamis Mosque, founded in 692, was one of the earliest mosques built in Bahrain. Bahrain became a principal centre of knowledge for hundreds of years stretching from the early days of Islam in the sixth century to the eighteenth century. Until the late Middle Ages, "Bahrain" referred to the larger historical region of Bahrain. Ibn Battuta's 14th century account contains an early use of the term "Bahrain" to refer solely to the Awal islands. However, the exact date at which the term "Bahrain" began to refer solely to the Awal archipelago is unknown.
The Portuguese invaded Bahrain in 1521 in alliance with Hormuz and Portuguese rule lasted for nearly 80 years, during which they depended mostly on Sunni Persian governors. During the 17th and 18th century, Iranian rulers retained sovereignty over the islands and instituted Shi'ism as the official religion in Bahrain. Bahrain’s trade with India saw the cultural influence of the subcontinent grow dramatically, with styles of dress, cuisine, and education all showing a marked Indian influence.
Oil was discovered in 1932 and brought rapid modernization to Bahrain. This discovery made relations with the United Kingdom closer, as evidenced by the British establishing more bases there. After World War II, increasing anti-British sentiment spread throughout the Arab World and led to riots in Bahrain. In 1970, Iran laid claim to Bahrain and the other Persian Gulf islands. However, in an agreement with the United Kingdom it agreed "not to pursue" its claims on Bahrain if its other claims were realized. Bahrain to this day remains a member of the Arab League and Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf. The British withdrew from Bahrain on 16 December 1971, making Bahrain an independent emirate.
Years of political stasis combined with the collapse of the price of oil, saw growing frustration at the lack of democracy explode into an uprising in 1994. While previous advocacy of reforms had been secular in character, the uprising was specifically Islamist beginning with the stoning of female competitors in a marathon race for wearing 'inappropriate' clothing. Until 1998, Bahrain was hit by riots and bomb attacks, while the police responded with heavy handed tactics. In all over forty people were killed.
In 1999 Shaykh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa became Amir after the death of his father, and carried out some social and political reforms. The country was declared a kingdom in 2002. Following the political liberalization Bahrain negotiated a Free Trade Agreement with the United States in 2004. Relations improved with neighbouring Qatar after the border dispute over the Hawar Islands was resolved by the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2001. The two are now building the Qatar-Bahrain Friendship Bridge to link the countries across the Persian Gulf, which will be the longest fixed-link bridge in the world when completed.
The major Bahraini citizen protests are occurring currently, following some and coincident with other Arab world protests in succession of 2010–2011 democracy demonstrations. The protesters selected 14 February as a day of protest to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the National Action Charter. On 18 February five people were killed when police raided the Pearl Roundabout protests early in the morning.
On March 14, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates entered Bahrain with the stated purpose of protecting essential facilities including oil and gas installations and financial institutions. The maneuver was carried out under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Bahrain comprises an archipelago of 33 islands in the Persian Gulf, situated close to the shore of the Arabian Peninsula. The islands are about 24 kilometres from the east coast of Saudi Arabia and 28 kilometres from Qatar. The total area of the islands is about 691 square kilometres. The largest island, accounting for 83% of the area, is Bahrain Island, which has an extent of 572 square kilometres. From north to south, Bahrain is 48 kilometres long. At its widest point in the north, it is 16 kilometres from east to west. Bahrain is a generally flat and arid archipelago in the Persian Gulf, east of Saudi Arabia. It consists of a low desert plain rising gently to a low central escarpment with the highest point the 134 metres Mountain of Smoke (Jabal ad Dukhan). Bahrain does not share a land boundary with another country but does have a 161-kilometre-long coastline. The country also claims a further 22 kilometres of territorial sea and a 44 kilometres contiguous zone. The country's natural resources include large quantities of oil and natural gas as well as fish in the offshore waters. Arable land constitutes only 2.82%of the total area.
Bahrain is split into five administrative regions, known as governorates.
Qal'at al-Bahrain is an amazing archaeological site in Bahrain. This site was first occupied by humans in 2300 BC and was finally completely abandoned in the 1700s. Its main claim to fame is that it was the capital of the Dilmun civilization, which ruled most of the Persian Gulf from 2200 to 1600 BC. More presently on top of the 12-metre-high mound is an impressive colonial era Portuguese Fort. With 25% of the site excavated many great relics have been found. Because of its long history from 2300 BC to the colonial era Qal'at al-Bahrain was made into a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.
Amwaj Islands, just recently completed, are man-made islands just off the north coast of Muharraq. The developers offer a combination of residential areas with commercial districts and some very high end resorts. The area will mix the beauty of the sea with modern day shopping centers and living areas. Some of the very high end rental properties include amazing canal and beach front villas. The different island are worth checking out to see how the super rich in the Middle East live.
Bahrain National Museum opened in 1988, this museum features a stunning collection of archaeological artifacts. The collection covers over 6,000 years of history, featuring the history of the Bahrain area. There are also many old documents, including some tablets featuring a scene from the Epic of Gilgamesh. There is even a relocated burial mound from the desert for visitors to explore. In 1993 a new area of the museum was opened featuring the natural history of Bahrain.
The Bahrain World Trade Center are two towers with reflecting design located in the capital and were completed in 2008. Each tower is 240 m high with 50 floors each. The coolest feature of these space age towers is that they are the first buildings in the world to incorporate wind power turbines into the design. The turbines provide 11% to 15% of the power for the buildings each year.
The true location of Dilmun is unclear, but archeologists have dated the mounds back to 3000 BC, the heyday of Dilmun which operated as a trading post between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley civilizations. Originally the mounds covered a number of square kilometres and were said to be one of the largest cemeteries in the ancient world with possibly as many as 350,000 graves. Today they are barely protected and used for dumping grounds and playgrounds. Being that they pre date Islam, many locals believe they are of no historical value. There have even been moves in government to try to have them concreted over. Located in the north, close to large metropolitan areas, developers have their eye on them. Two of the largest sites are at A'ali and some larger mounds at Hamad Town.
Bahrain has an arid climate with warm to hot weather. There is no rain whatsoever from May to October. From November to April, there are about 2 to 4 days a month with some rainfall, totalling less than 100mm of rain a year. Temperatures are pleasant from November to April. January is the coldest month with average maximum temperatures of 20 °C, dropping to 14 °C at night. July is the hottest month with daytime temperatures averaging 38 °C and nights still around 30 °C! Temperatures hitting 50 °C are not uncommon during summer and together with sometimes humid conditions makes this time almost unbearable.
Bahrain International Airport is where all international flights depart and arrive. The main national carrier is Gulf Air with flights both in the region as further away to many destinations in Asia, Europe and less so to other places. Main destinations include Paris, London, Istanbul, Bangkok, Shanghai and Delhi. Low-cost airline Bahrain Air is planning to serves about 10-15 destinations in the Middle East including Aleppo, Alexandria-El Nouzha, Amman, Assiut, Baghdad, Beirut, Chittagong, Damascus, Dhaka, Doha, Dubai, Khartoum, Kochi, Kozhikode, Kuwait, Luxor, Mashhad, Mumbai, Najaf and Riyadh.
To/from the airport
Taxis and shuttles buses are widely availalbe from the airport. There are a few bus lines which operate from downtown Al Manama. Actually, if you are willing to, you can even walk there from Al Manama, as it's just over an hour. Only do this when it's wintertime though!
Those with their own car can technically visit Bahrain, by crossing the border from Saudi Arabia. Apart from citizens of both countries though, there are few travellers who make it here. You need prove that it is your own car (not a hired one!) and get a transit visa for travellers to countries like the United Arab Emirates or Jordan.
In the future, Bahrain might be linked to Qatar, via a very long causeway.
Saudi Bahraini Transport Co runs buses between Manama and Dammam in Saudi Arabia 6 times daily, from where you can connect to Riyadh or Doha in Qatar.
Saudi Arabian Public Transport Co has buses from Manama to Amman in Jordan, Damascus in Syria, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah in the UAE and to Kuwait.
Several ferries and fast catamarans travel between Iran and Bahrain. Connections include Bushehr to Bahrain. Check the Iran Traveling Center for more details about schedules and prices. International Agencies Company is the one to contact in Bahrain.
Roads are mostly paved and in a good condition and cars can be rented at the international airport or several offices and hotels in Manama. For destiations outside Manama, this is probably the best way of getting around, especially if time is limited and you want to visit many sights in one or two days. Traffic drives on the right and you will need an international driving permit.
Buses connect Manama with most other cities and towns and are cheap and relatively comfortable. Shared taxis ply some routes as well and leave when full. Usually, these are regular cars.
If you are not going to leave Manama, getting around on foot is the best way here.
You can charter boats to visit some offshore islands.
Citizens of following countries can obtain 14-day visa at all border stations and airports. The fee is 5 dinar or $13.
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland (3 months), Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russia, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom (3 months), United States, Vatican City
You can also apply in advance online for an eVisa However this is strictly limited to citizens of certain countries. It costs BD 7. The benefit of this is somewhat unclear though, as those eligible for eVisas can also get visas on arrival; however, possessing an eVisa will likely allow you to get through customs faster, as one wouldn't need to obtain the visa at the port of entry.
Bahrain is among the few Gulf states that officially accepts Israeli Passports (although you'll need a visa) and passports with evidence of visits to Israel.
Visa is not required for nationals of GCC member states (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman) and a short stay visa will be granted on arrival to residents of GCC member states as well regardless of nationality.
See also Money matters
Dinar (BHD) = 1,000 fils.
Notes appear in denominations of BHD20, 10, 5, and 1, and 500 fils.
Coins are in denominations of 100, 50, 25 and 10 fils.
The majority of the population in Bahrain are expatriates (they make up 62% of the population). A minority of expats work in the financial sector however the majority are engaged as labourers, policemen, drivers and lower class lowly paid artisans. Conditions for many of these people are poor and there are regular alegations of human rights abuses and 'Modern Day Slavery'.
The University of Bahrain is the largest university in Bahrain.
Arabic is the official language, although English and Persian (Farsi) are widely spoken. Urdu, Hindi and Malayalam is also understood and spoken by Indians and Pakistanis.
Bahrain has an impressive dining scene, with numerous restaurants to choose from. The main dining area is Adliya. In Adliya, you can take your pick among numerous cafe's, with Coco's (very well priced and delicious food) and Lilou's (Very popular with locals wanting to see and be seen) among the most famous. Mirai is an incredible Japanese Fusion restaurant perfect for a special occasion. Trendy lounges/restaurants are in the area as well like Zoe's, and Block 338.
Restaurants in Bahrain run the gamut for cheap stalls offering local food to fancy restaurants in fancy hotels. American fast food franchises such as Burger King and McDonalds are ubiquitous. Western (mostly American) style-foods and franchises can be found around the malls and in the city centre, offering food for upper mid-range prices.
Bahrain has relatively liberal laws regarding alcohol and has long been a favorite getaway for visitors from Saudi Arabia and other nearby "dry" countries — don't be surprised to see Arabs in thobe and gutra sipping cool brewskis as they watch dancers strut their stuff in the nightclubs.
Under Bahraini law, any sign of having consumed alcohol may be taken as prima facie evidence of driving under the influence, which can lead to imprisonment and/or fines of up to BD 1,000.
Coffee, called gahwa ( قهوة ) locally, is considered a part of the traditional welcome in Bahrain. It is usually poured into a coffee-pot, which is called dalla ( دلة ) in Bahrain. It is served in a small cup made for coffee called finjan ( فنجان ).
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Bahrain. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Bahrain) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Bahrain. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
During 2011, a state of near civil war broke out in Bahrain, with many deaths, hundreds of injuries, and a large number of activists and health professionals arrested and tortured. Though massive demonstrations were brutally put down, the atmosphere remains tense, and demonstrations, riots, and shootings by the police may recur at any time. Travellers should avoid the rural areas and the villages to the northwest of the country. Large demonstrations can occur at any time, can sometimes become violent but are typically not anti-Western. Avoid areas where crowds of people appear to be assembling.
The ordinary social crime rate in Bahrain is low and violent crime is rare. However, burglary, petty theft, and robberies do occur. Incidents of petty crime such as pickpocketing and bag snatching are reported especially in the old market areas known as souks. Most hotels have discos frequented by some unsavoury characters. Though the hotels have proper security systems including cameras installed, there are instances of tourists having their rooms burgled.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to Bahrain is: 973
To make an international call from Bahrain, the code is: 00
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