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The new Iqra children’s library opened in October 2006 and is a restored building opposite the Shaikh Ebrahim Centre on Road 723. Iqra means ‘read’ in Arabic and this light open-plan building has a reading room with a small but growing collection of books in Arabic and English for children aged six to twelve, as well as computer terminals. In the afternoons there is a supervisor for reading and computing activities and there are plans for storytelling sessions and cultural programmes for children
One of my favourite places in Muharraq, very close to the Shaikh Ebrahim Centre in an open square off lane 932, is the renovated Abdullah Al Zayed House for Press Heritage which opened to the public in November 2003. The façade of the building has retained the original features including, the arched doorway with decorative carved gypsum designs, and the old-style stained glass fanlight panes, wooden mashrabiya panels on the windows, which provide privacy, shade, and let in soft filtered light. The stunning carved wooden door at the entrance is from an old and important Bahraini house and has proved, with some readjustments, to be perfect for the Abdullah Al Zayed House.
The house has a small majlis as you enter on the right and you go through a tiny passageway to the once open courtyard, which now has a glass roof to let in light and keep out the dust, heat, humidity and cooler winter weather, plus the occasional rain shower. The small courtyard is typical of Arab and Islamic architectural design, though the cool flagstone floor is new and there is a little alcove seating area with cushions. Upstairs is a reading area which has a beautifully preserved painted wooden ceiling. A visit to the house provides an opportunity to learn about Abdullah Al Zayed, who was a talented young member of Shaikh Ebrahim’s forum and who later became a journalist and the editor and publisher of Bahrain’s first newspaper. Today the centre is used for meetings and cultural events.
Muharraq souq is quite a long walk from Abdullah Al Zayed House, so it is probably better to retrace your steps and take your car and follow the signs to the souq. Smaller than Manama’s souq, the souq in Muharraq is well worth a visit and far less touristy, though parking can be a problem. It dates back to the early 19th Century when the souq had special areas for grocers, bakers, sweet makes, herbalists, goldsmiths, and ship suppliers, as well as other artisans and professional trades.
Today there are no longer these area distinctions, but a variety of outlets and some interesting antique shops where you can find restored furniture, old doors and other curiosities. The souq is busy, but local men still have time to sit in the many tea and coffee shops to drink shay, or tea, and qahwa, a lightly roasted coffee flavoured with cardamom.