|Life in the times before air-conditioning
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Back to the basics
Due to Bahrains long history, local architecture has had many influences, especially from India (the fantastic woodwork!) and Portugal, which makes it somewhat different from other Gulf countries.
A typical Arabic home in ancient times was built with the need for privacy in mind an aspect of building that has carried over into modern homes as well. Everyday life had to be concealed from the prying eyes of the neighbours and passers-by.
However the hot weather in turn meant that much of the work had to be done outside this led to the erecting of high walls surrounding the house, and eventually the courtyard inside the house.
Equally interesting is how the houses were built. Before the Industrial Age people usually used materials that were readily available.
In Bahrain where the sea is always close, it was only natural to use coral blocks that were then set in gypsum mortar.
A stable block from these primitive bricks had to be at least three blocks or approximately 60 cms wide to ensure good insulation. These thick walls helped keep the heat outside the door.
Palm trees provided the material for the beams and the roofs. And just like in any other hot country all the buildings were white to reflect the warm sunshine.
The windows were kept small, not only because of the need for privacy, but also to keep as much as possible of the heat outside.
Roofs were flat so that during the summer nights it was possible to go and sleep on the roof in the cool air under the sky (the Gulf enjoys very little rainfall when compared to most other parts of the world, so there is not much need for angled roofs as in areas where heavy rains are common).
An integral part of Islamic architecture is the use of geometric and symmetrical forms and the contrast between light and shadows. Since there is plenty of sunshine in this area, it is also important to provide as much shade as possible by means of architecture.
The courtyard in the middle
The house was built along the wall, so that a courtyard was left in the middle. This was not only because Islamic culture emphasises the privacy of the family, but also to keep the cool night air in the shadow of the building as long as possible.
There were trees growing in the courtyard under which the children played.
The women of the family spent their days sitting around the yard in the shadow of the trees, chatting and preparing the food while watching the children.
There was usually no garden around the house, quite the opposite to the houses built today.