|Life in the times before air-conditioning
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In Bahrain, there is not much left of the old Manama. If you take a boat trip, youll notice the very Manhattan-like silhouette of the Diplomatic Area in Manama, giving a very modern western image for the town.
Much of this new area is, however, built on reclaimed land. When the Bab Al Bahrain (gate of Bahrain) was built in 1945, it was almost on the waterfront in the harbour; now you can hardly see the water from it!
If you walk along the narrow streets of the souk, you might occasionally run into a old building in ruins, depicting the sad story of total negligence by the owners.
Probably the best way to learn about how things were in the past is the Heritage Centre (tel ) near Bab Al Bahrain. There you can see how the people used to live, what their homes looked like etc, in a more or less museum-like environment.
If you are more interested in Bahraini culture, pearl diving, the burial mounds and the like, you should visit the National Museum the building of which is a fine example of mixing modern architecture with traditional Arabic and Islamic architectural elements.
Speaking of Islam, visitors should not miss the fabulous Beit Al Quran (literally the home of the Holy Quran). Here you can see a wide selection of the Holy Qurans, old historical copies in different languages and sizes, some as small as a matchbox!
At the same time the visitor can only admire how well the architect has been able to capture the spirit of the holy book into this building.
Old houses of Muharraq
If you want to see more surviving old buildings, you must go to Muharraq, which is the old capital of Bahrain. Wandering through the narrow alleys gives you a good idea of how it must have been to live in the cities here before.
A good place to start your exploration is the fabulous Shaikh Isa bin Alis House, the home of the great great grandfather of the present Ruler, HM Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. It is one of the best surviving examples of traditional Bahraini architecture.
After recent restoration work, it offers a truly unique opportunity to study the past. Here you can also witness yourself how effective a wind tower really is in cooling the intolerably hot air, especially during the summer!
Near Shaikh Isas house is the Beit Al Siyadi, or Siyadi House which used to belong to a famous pearl merchant in the 19th century. With all the detailed ornamentation on the facade and in the finely carved doors, it is an excellent example of the best architecture from that period.
The bottom line
One thing Bahrain has going for it is a long history something money cant buy. Therefore it is crucial to preserve it. Bahrain has fortunately started moving to ensure that old forts, old buildings, old customs and traditions are not lost to future generations.
I wish that all those old, beautiful houses one can still find in Bahrain will get all the care and respect they deserve not with a bulldozer but by skilled professionals (like architect Khatoon Ansari, who has been responsible for the excellent restoration work of both Riffa and Arad forts).
Lets all hope the Bahrainis will never forget their long history, and continue to respect their heritage both by preserving the old buildings and by designing the new ones so that they fit well into this historical island, the pearl of the Gulf!
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