A Sumerian poem describes it as resembling the Garden of Eden, where sickness and death did not exist, and sweet water flowed. Bahrain, once called Dilmun and known in ancient Mesopotamia as the "Island of Bliss," is a tiny island-state, surrounded by the Arabian Gulf, smallest country in the Middle East. For centuries, it served as a religious centre for Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians who considered the site holy ground.
The Epic of Gilgamesh describes it as paradise; accordingly, people in surrounding lands wished to be buried in the tiny island which measures only 700 sq km (270 sq mi), about the size of Singapore. Even though the state actually consists of 33 islands, the Island of Bahrain, about 50 km (31 mi) long and 12 km (7.5 mi) wide, composes 85% of the country.
The ancient sacred island reputation may have validity since 172,000 burial mounds, many dating back 5,000 years or more, were found scattered on the island. Then, Bahrain was blessed with an abundance of fresh water. The mix of salt and sweet water, which bubbles up from under the sea led to the Arabic name, "Bahrain," meaning "two seas."
Along with banking and industry, Bahrain's combination of mythical allure and modern facilities has created a rich and inviting atmosphere conducive to tourism. Five-star hotels, superb restaurants, all types of sport facilities and greenery flourish everywhere. About 30% of the island has been planted with palms and other trees intertwined with shrubs. The northern tip, about 5 km (3 mi) wide, is now almost entirely green.
This island is the most relaxed, inexpensive and liberal destination in the Gulf with a population of 730,000, 60% Bahrainis, the remainder from the Indian sub-continent. Surprisingly, English is heard more often than Arabic. There are a half dozen Christian churches; and a small community of indigenous Christians continue to call Bahrain home.
In this multicultural environment, with a fascinating blend of east and west, Bahrainis behave with modesty and dignity, and practice a long tradition of hospitality. There are excellent public services; the country is impeccably clean; the crime is low; and Bahraini women are to be found engaged in all facets of life. Little wonder that 3.5 million annual visitors are attracted here.
Bahrain boasts one of the busiest airports in the region and a large financial services sector with offshore banking. Above all, the 25 km (15.5 mi) $1 billion King Fahd Causeway, linking Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, one of the most expensive bridges in the world, draws big-spending visitors from oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
Manama, the capita city of some 175,000 people, is the focal point for most visitors, and historic tourist sites are dramatically enhanced with contemporary buildings that burst into the sky, towering hotels and modern skyscrapers.
Around its historic centre, Bab Al-Bahrain, the souks are ablaze with colour, filled with exotic scents that ooze from spices, edged by a rainbow of textiles that are attractively displayed. In this vivid world of oriental colour, people from many lands seem to converse in a Babel of tongues, dominated by Arabic and English, and one finds that Bahrain's label as "Pearl of the Gulf" is not exaggerated, especially for those who arrive in the favoured months when the days are warm and the nights cool.
- Visas are required for all visitors, except nationals from the Arab Gulf countries and Great Britain. These can be obtained from Bahraini consulates abroad or are available for most nationalities at the airport or the border crossing on the King Fahd Causeway.
- The currency of Bahrain is the Bahrain dinar; currently 1 Bahraini dinar (BHD) equals 2.65 US dollars.
- Taxis are inexpensive, metered and the best way to get around; they cost about 2 BD within the city of Manama.
- Bani Jamrah, a small village of weavers, located about 10 km (6 mi) west of Manama, is the place to see traditional craftsmen ply their trade.
- For golfers, Bahrain offers an international 18-hole grass golf course.
- The best time to visit Bahrain is between November and March, when the temperature is pleasant.
- For all types of hotels see website:
- The airport departure fee is 3 BD.
Habeeb Salloum has authored numerous books, his latest: Arab Cooking On A Saskatchewan Homestead: Recipes And Recollections - winner of the Cuisine Canada and The University of Guelph's Silver Canadian Culinary Book Awards in Winnipeg in 2006. He contributes to Forever Young (Oakville), Contemporary Review (Oxford, UK), Canadian World Traveller (Quebec) and the Toronto Star.
- Al-'Areen Wildlife Sanctuary: a reserve for many of Arabia's indigenous animals, it features 100,000 trees and other plants.
- Al-Fatih Mosque: offers non-Muslim visitors a rare opportunity to enter a large mosque.
- Al-Khamis Mosque: one of the oldest relics of Islam in the region, first built in 692 A.D.
- Bahrain National Museum: houses a well-illustrated collection of exhibits of the burial grounds of the Bait Al Qur'an: houses a comprehensive and valuable collection of the Holy Qur'an and other manuscripts.
- Dhow Building Yards: once employed on a large scale for fishing and pearling, these fine Arab wooden ships, still hand-made, are now chiefly used in carrying cargo and for entertainment sailing.
- Muharraq Causeway, one of Bahrain's most recognizable symbols, a great attraction for photographers.
- Museum of Pearl Diving: one of the most important historic buildings in Bahrain.
- Oil Museum and the nearby Oil Well No 1: commemorates the first discovery of oil in Bahrain and the Middle East.
- Pearl Monument: consists of six dhow 'sails' holding a giant pearl.
- Qal'at al-Bahrain or Bahrain Fort: also called the Portuguese Fort, is believed to have been first erected in 2800 BC.
- Royal Tombs at the A'ali village: part of the largest prehistoric cemetery in the world.
- Sawani Restaurant: built in the historic Bahraini style with eye-catching wind-towers.
- Shaikh Isa's House: traditional 19th century Bahraini architecture.
- Tree of Life: a huge 400 year-old tree growing in the desert with an unknown source of water.
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