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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

10/28: Snake Bowls & Madbasa in Manama, Bahrain

Seeing Manama, the capital city in the tiny island nation of Bahrain, in the light of day was so much more refreshing and relaxing after renting a car at the airport and trying to navigate in the dark through lots of one way streets to our hotel. Manama may mean 'Sleeping Place' but judging from the constant hum of activity outside our hotel in the downtown core, it was hard to see when the city gets a chance to sleep! 

Since we only had two full days in Manama, we were up at a decent hour to grab some breakfast before seeing some of the sights. Just a couple of hundred feet from our hotel was the Bab al-Bahrain. Known as the 'Gateway to Bahrain', it was once the terminus of the customs pier which provided us some idea of the extent of land reclamation in the area. The Tourist Department and a souvenir shop were in the building now.
Adam: I thought of you when Steven popped into a tiny store to get a bottle of water and I saw these Twix ice cream bars. I love Twix bars but even I couldn't see myself eating ice cream before breakfast! Have you ever had one?
We didn't see many viable breakfast options so when we spotted Mickey D's, we ate there. (I am writing this post from Gondar, Ethiopia, and am practically salivating when I think of what I would do for a McDonald's fix right about now as the restaurant options in this town are few and far between!)
Coming from Egypt where we had seen very few modern buildings, few signs of any wealth or prosperity, no modern architecture and overwhelming poverty by and large to the skyscrapers and attractive architecture of Manama was startling. 

I wasn't able to take as many pictures as I would have liked because, once we started driving to our first destination, my primary role was supposed to be the navigator and no longer the 'official photographer' on the trip. I wished you could have seen me trying to figure out where we were on the map and on the iPad -  even though the dratted blue dot on that thing never seemed to keep up with where we were in real time - and telling Steven when and where to turn AND trying to sneak photos in focus, mind you, out the car window when I could! All that to say, I sure hope you like the photo of the Sail Monument!
We managed to find our way to Beit al-Quran which is supposed to house a large and striking collection of Qurans, manuscripts and woodcarvings. However, we discovered it was closed because it was Friday, the Muslim Sabbath.

We drove next to the Bahrain National Museum where we noticed the parking lot was partially covered to protect the cars and people from the summertime blistering heat where temperatures can reach in excess of 45 degrees Celsius.
There a number of cars with license plates that said ‘KSA’ on them which we knew to mean they were from the neighboring Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We had hoped to be able to visit Saudi Arabia on this trip but found out early on that the country does not allow non-Muslim tourists to enter.

The very attractive museum's entrance courtyard:

It was so hot that Steven was very happy that I was able to get a decent shot of him right away so we could escape into the air conditioned interior.
We were a little tired of antiquities after touring more than our share of them in Egypt so it was a relief being able to view the museum's mostly modern art collection even though that’s not normally our ‘thing.’
Here were some of the more intriguing pieces: 'Man on boat.'
'Angels and Demons'
I liked the 'Cattle' sculptures but felt sorry for the person responsible for having to dust the mirrored base!

This pair of paintings was untitled.
I loved the intricate lacey design in the 'Coral Sea with Bird.'

This sculpture was titled 'Shell with Bird.' It was apparent that living in such close proximity to the Persian Gulf had strongly influenced many of the painters and sculptors whose works we saw.
There was an interesting exhibition called 'Bahraini Beats' that I found enjoyable. The informational panel said that music is a cultural form that distinguishes a certain group of people from others and that embodies the spirit of the local community.   
Bahrain, due to its strategic location at a crossroads, was a vital transit point for people, allowing for the development of a rich and distinct music repertoire since antiquity. Traditional music in Bahrain has been influenced by the instrumental music of East Africa and the Indian subcontinent. It also reflects the way of life on the island before the discovery of oil.
The oud is one of the oldest and most popular musical instrments in Oriental and Arab music.
For at least 7,000 years - probably for much longer - people have lived in Bahrain. For most of that time, they left no written records, no accounts of what they did or how they lived. All the time, however, they left records of another sort. Everything they made and everything they threw away, even their bones remained - subject to the ravages of time - to help archeologists of their lives and doings. 

For at least 2,000 years, fishermen and hunters roamed Bahrain. Their tools and weapons made of flint survived. Elsewhere in these centuries, the first cities were being built, long distance trade was developing and the first ships were beginning to sail the seas. Some reached Bahrain and sherds of the pots they carried lie among the flint. (When I saw the word 'sherd,' I thought for sure it was a typo and that it was supposed to be 'shard.' I googled it and discovered that, according to wikipedia, i'n archaeology, a sherd, or more precisely, potsherd, is commonly a historic or prehistoric fragment of pottery, although the term is occasionally used to refer to fragments of stone and glass vessels, as well.  Occasionally, a piece of broken pottery may be referred to as a shard.')
During the formative, early and late periods of the ancient Dilmun civilization in Bahrain, its residents began trading with others, the cities prospered and temples were built. Finally, wealth from the new incense trade financed the building of a new palace.
The development of the incense trade brought Bahrain into closer contact with mainland Arabia and Arabia into closer contact with the civiliztions and religions of the outside world. Bahrain, which early embraced Islam, was renowned for its properity and maintained close ties with the centers of Islamic culture in the north.
During the Middle Islam period, there were centuries of ever-increasing seafaring, and Bahrain, with other ports in the Gulf was considerably involved in the East India and China trade. But siccess in trade brought foreign intervention. Both Iran and Oman held Bahrain from time to time and then the Portuguese held the island under its control.
Bitumen-coated basketry: Woven containers, mats and other items made of palm leaves and other plant material have a long history in Bahrain. Bitumen was used in ancient times as a cement and mortar. Sometimes woven products were preserved if their texture was impressed with bitumen, gypsum or a similar material. I read that some exquisitely made bitumen vessels were found in burial mounds.
A bitumen-covered beaker:
Grass-covered Bahrain? Many burial mounds dot the landscape around Manama. Under some of the mounds, a thin reed brown or red humus-like layer has been detected. This may indicate that the desert at that time lay under grass. These areas would have been ideal for grazing herds of cattle and sheep. It would seem that the climatic conditions and the quality of the soil were better during Bahrain's very early history than they are today.
After seeing a short video showing the massive number of burial mounds not too far from Manama, we were both interested in learning more about them. You can understand why particularly the second photo of the mounds piqued our curiousity. 
Dilmun burial traditions: Originally estimated at 80,000 mounds, the Bahraini burial mounds have always caught the attention of world travelers. They constitute the largest prehistoric cemetery in the world in terms of the number and concentration. Initially constructed as drum-shaped, the Early Dilmun mounds, dated from 2200-1750 BC, were characterized by their impressive size, elaboate construction technique and niches. The careful burial of the deceased and the nature of the offerings in the tombs reflected a stong belief in the afterlife. That sounded just like the ancient Egyptians of the same era.

The deceased were placed inside stone chambers lying on one side with their heads pointing to the north, legs bent and their arms resting by or under their face. Eating and drinking vessels as well as personal ornaments were carefully placed by the corpses.
This hoard of Ottoman silver coins was minted in the Bahraini town of Basra between 1574 and 1623.
Military Life: The strategic position of Bahrain and, more importantly its taxable wealth, made the island an object of conquest as it had been for millenia. Princes from the Iranian coast, Portugese admirals, Ottoman sultans, Persian shahs and Omani imams or holy men in turn attempted to take and hold Bahrain. They built and rebuilt strongholds at various sites around the island.
Bahrain was famous as the 'Land of a Million Date Palm Trees.' Everything in the tree was useful to people. The dates were food for both people and animals. The trunk and branches were used to build homes, fish traps and animals troughs. Its leaves were used to build mats, fans and baskets. Ropes were made from the fibers and fuel was garnered from the branches' thick bases. 

The madbasa is a structure for collecting the juice of dates and is unique in the coastal areas of the Arabian Gulf. The production and consumption of this 'date honey' is very ancient and madasa have been found which date back to the second millenium BC. Date honey, a very nutritious and expensive product, is of good commercial value. It was mentioned as one of the eight legal drinks allowed by Buddha and was often used by Chinese pilgrims traveling in India. (I didn't realize when I read about the madasa in the Museum how many madbasa we would encounter as we traveled in the other Gulf nations in the next ten days or so.)
Arabic Inscriptions: It was fascinating seeing show how Arabic script evolved over time. Here were just two examples that we thought initially were highly decorative ornamentation and not Arabic script.

Pearling and the People: Bahrain has for four centuries been a country famous for its almost exclusively natural pearls. The fabled sweet water from under the sea tempered the salt water to produce a pearl of a distictive hue. In fact, so valuable were the pearls from the island's shallow waters that the country's entire prosperity was built on the collection and trading of the gem. 
Despite the beauty of the catch, pearling was an unglamorous industry that entailed local 'divers' working with little more than a nose peg in shark-infested waters and being hauled up with their bounty by 'pullers' working long and sun-baked shifts from June to October. 
In 1905, there were about 17,500 divers in an estimated popualtion of 99,000 and whole areas depended on the trade. In 1929, pearling was prospering with 538 boats and over 20,000 divers. But with the worldwide depression, the advent of Japanese cultured pearls and alternative sources of employment in the oil industry, pearling declined drastically. By 1954, there were only 11 boats and 538 divers and the 1960s saw the end of pearling.
Bahrain was very famous in ship building from ancient times and known for the construction of 'dhows.' A dhow is the generic name of a number of traditional sailing vessels with one or two masts, used chiefly in the Arabian region. Smaller dhows were used for pearling and fishing and the larger boats were used to transport cargo and passengers between Bahrain's islands.
We next saw a gallery dedicated to various crafts. The weaving frame, which was approximately 4.5 feet in length, had many holes through which the ropes ran the length of the mat. The weaver could control the strength and density of the mat with these ropes. Two weavers normally worked on the weaving frame.

The Village House: While men worked at sea or in the fields or were engaged in traditional crafts such as weaving cloth and making pottery, women's activities centered around the house. That sounded rather familiar, I couldn't help but thinking! 
Women took care of the children and animals and prepared the food. Sometimes the women helped their husbands in their crafts. They also were involved in other crafts such as weaving rush mats and baskets, spinning and dyeing threads and cloth. Women also sold nuts and milk products. 
We had already spent close to two hours wandering around the museum but decided to escape for a bit as we had also bought tickets for a boat ride to take us to another part of the museum located on Muharrak Island. I was so glad I had read ahead of time about the boat trip on trip advisor as there was absolutely no information or mention when we bought the museum admission tickets about the second part of the museum and the boat ride accessing it.
Steven and I were the only passengers on the whitest and cleanest boat we had seen anywhere. It looked like it had just come direct from the factory.

The post-modern museum building was in an outstanding location that brought the waterfront to within just a few feet of it.
Views of Manama from the boat:
The meaning of the word Bahrain - literally 'the two seas' in Arabic - refers to the seawater of the Arabian Gulf and the sea of freshwater springing up from artesian wells.

It was great fun zipping across the small bay in the fast motorboat.

Arad Fort was built in the typical style of Islamic forts during the 15th century before the Portuguese invasion of Bahrain in 1622.

For some reason, this attractive wooden sculpture was called Wedding of a Fish. How, I wonder, did the artist ever come up with that name?
A large gallery on the island contained models of some of Bahrain's forts. The guard there said he only sees about 20 people in the gallery a day. What a shame as the boat ride itself was well worth the price of admission.
The guard then walked with us over to Arad Fort that was only visible from the outside.

The guard said these were fishing nets
Feeling the stiff wind against our faces on the way back was invigorating. I wish we could have slipped the boatman extra money to take us on a longer ride!
I don't know what this building is but it sort of looked like a stairstepper, I thought!
The city views were fabulous. In the middle are the twin towers of the Bahrain World Trade Center which looked like sails to me.

There was still far more of the museum still to see. I really found it interesting reading about Bahraini traditions on giving birth, the treatment of the child after birth, the first days after birth, etc. If you are curious about any of that, here are photos of what I enjoyed reading.
I don't remember ever reading about any other culture where the religion is immediately shared with the baby in this way.

From reading these panels, it didn't appear to me that the husband and father plays much of a role in the first 40 days after a child is born. How sad that he misses out on bonding with his newborn.

An old Bahraini tradition is that whenever a child loses one of his infant teeth, he holds it in his fist with seven date pits. Pointing to the sun, he shouts, 'Take this donkey's tooth and give me a gazelle's tooth.' He then throws the stones and the pits at the sun.
The purifying act of circumcision in Bahrain may be a case of TMI or too much information! According to Islamic tradition, boys are circumcised between the ages of three and six. It is carried out by a specialist - phew! The best times for circumcision in Bahrain are Monday, Thursday and Friday or religious occasions like the Prophet's birthday. 

Children's toys: Traditionally, most toys were made by the children themselves from materials they had at hand. Bird bones tied together became the skeleton of a doll which was then dressed in homemade clothes. 
Used tins and cotton rags became ships with sails. Seashells or pebbles were used as pieces in games. and palmstcks were used as bats. I wonder what toys Bahraini kids play with nowadays.
I read that girls' games take place in the house or close to it  and they often imitate the activities of their mothers. Apart from playing with dolls, girls' games are often 'play-songs' or hopscotch, etc where only a few objects are used.

The school and the teacher: Children attended religious schools from the age of five or six. The mixed-sex classes were held every day except Friday, the Muslim holy day, in their teacher's home. The amount of time spent at school varied with the child's talent - that was something brand new to me too. Truancy was severely punished.

The method of instruction: The students started with short Chapters of the Holy Qur'an, aka the Koran, to practice the pronounciation of vowels. They then proceded to other parts of the Qur'an where grammar was taught. The teaching was completed when the Qur'an had been learned. The sole emphasis was on religious learning in the exhibit. There was no mention of any math, history, science or any foreign language being taught.
We next walked through the Spitfire exhibit that celebrated the 200th anniversary of the close relationship between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the United Kingdom.
A Supermarine Spitfire:

Zachary: I thought you'd like to know that the temporary exhibit had some of the types of planes used in the 1991 Gulf War that were based in Bahrain. This was the Blackburn Buccaneer. Have you ever heard of it?
More views of the Spitfire from differnt angles:
The Spitfire arrived at the Bahrain National Museum on April 2th of this year. It was received by the museum's operation's team, the engineers of the BAE systems, specialists from the UK Royal Air Force museum as well as a group of engineering students from Bahrain Polytechnic. We saw a video in super fast speed showing the team assembling the plane in three days. Of course, the two minute video made the process look super smooth and effortless!
You would surely have thought that we would have had enough of learning about ancient Bahraini civilizations and history by this point, wouldn't you? But no, we were 'lucky' enough to find yet another museum with relics to wander around for a good chunk of time! This dramatic building was the site museum for the Qala'at al-Bahrain, Arabic for Bahrain Fort.

When I saw that the museum had much of the same sort of information that we had just seen at the Bahrain National Musum about the country's early Dilmun civization, I must admit that my eyes began to glaze over at that point! Reading about early Dilmun seals piqued my interest a tad though! The stamp seals made of soft stone were among the most well known artifacts of the Dilmun civilization. 
They allowed the organization of the Dilmun trade and were used equally by individuals and public officials. Applied on contracts or labels attached to goods and property, they certified authenticity or ownership. What I liked about seeing them was the detail of the craftmanship and they appeared to be brand new and not something  that had been buried in Bahrain's desert sand for millenia.
Some of the country's oldest ships appear to have been constructed from bundles of reeds bound together and coated with bitumen. Even heavily loaded, the ships were able to travel vast distances. Glad I wasn't on one as it sure didn't sound very seaworthy!
This limestone block still had visible inscriptions on two sides even though they were eroded and difficult for scholars to read. The text, written in an ancient language with ideograms, was a commemorative inscription from the reign of a Kassite king who ruled between 1361 and 1333 BC. I remember Abdul, our guide in the temples around Luxor, Egypt, also mentioning the Kassite kings. Darned if I can recollect which temple it was though as we saw so many! A fragment of the king's name was on the third line of the front side.
These tiny bearded figures almost looked like toys to me but they were probably intended to represent the faithful who couldn't enter the temple.
When I saw that these were Snake Bowls and that they were an uncommon sacrificial practice, I just had to read more. Snakes were apparently first placed, possibly alive, inside cloth bags, traces of which were found. One or more faience beads or, on rare occasions a pearl, were sometimes deposited with the reptile. Only two species were identified, the rat snake and the sea snake, the most common ones in Bahrain. Snakes were very popular and associated with fertility in the Arabian Peninsula. This snake bowl contained the approximately five foot-long skeleton of a sea snake!
Other snake bowls:
I couldn't help but thinking that this stele, which probably represented the deceased, looked like a cartoon character. I hope the deceased person in life was as happy as this image of him in death was.
This stele represented a veiled woman in a praying position.
Like the National Museum we had been to earlier, the Bahrain Fort museum took superb advantage of its proximity to the sea. From the museum, we walked up a gently sloping hill to the fort itself. The fort was built on top of the ancient Dilmun capital and had a constantly changing succession of tenants to include Dilmun, Hormuz, Persians, the Greeks and the Portuguese. 
The moated fort was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century as part of a string of defenses along the Gulf but the site appears to have been occupied from about 2800 BC. There were seven layers of history represented in the various digs that surrounded the fort, including the remnants of two earlier forts. One of those earlier forts was built in 350 AD but was abandoned until it was restored 800 years later with the rise of Islam.
Thanks to the audio guide I rented, I learned that we were looking at the ruins of a city wall built in 2000 BC where 4,000 people lived.
Jusat like any fort worth its salt, the Bahrain Fort  had a drawbridge we had to cross first.
The Portuguese designed the fort so that any potential attacker would have to make his way through each of these doorways before entering the fort's courtyard.

Despite the somewhat confusing name of Bahrain Fort, the major settlement site was not limited to the massive fortress facing the sea. It was a true 'tell' or artificial hill with a thick accumualtion of archeological layers that began with the first human installations.
The inscription in 2005 of the fort on the UNESCO World Heritage List has made the fort one of the main archeological sites on the Arabian Peninsula.
A real 'madbasa' like we had just read about in the National Museum: Parallel channels, usually lined with a smooth coating, were cut into the floor of a square or rectangular room. Dates were piled up in bags or heaped directly on the floor so that their juice could be squuezed out by the combined effects of the heat and the pressure of the ripe fruit. The juice was then channeled into earthenware pots The earliest madbasa on the grounds of the fort dated to the 4th century BC. Around the 13th century, there were eight madbasa in this coastal fortress and they produced 15 tons of date molasses annually!
The fort was enormous and just kept going on and on. Our spirits were beginning to flag a bit at this point as we had had an exhausting day yesterday traveling from Egypt. It was interesting looking at what remained of the fort but with very few signs, it was hard to know what we were looking at!
The fort's cistern:

As we looked down on the excavated area, we got a view of how dense and complex the buildings were.
There was a span of more than 3,000 years between what we had just seen in the preceding picture and the ruins below.

Since ancient times, the palm trees just outside the fort provided shade for other crops.

I found it rather odd that the Portuguese built the fort, not because they expected an attack from the sea, but to keep down the local population. Portugal relied on sea power to keep their possessions but there was too much silt and too many reefs in the waters around Bahrain for their ships.
I am sure my dear hubby was wondering where the exit to this fort was as he trudged along one of the outer walls!
Holes for cannon placement:

The sunset over the fort was gorgeous even though it was only about 5

Seeing the fort in the late afternoon meant that the temperature was better, the lighting was spectacular and we could feel the sea breeze. 

We left the fort and drove over to the beach just beyond the museum as we could see lots of people were having fun there. Bahraini families were picnicing, flying kites and having a fun time on jetskis. Only very young children were cavorting in the water, I noticed. 
The beach was a great place for collecting shells, Zachary and Suellen. You both would have loved it. I hope that a few of the shells I found make it home safe and sound for you to look at or have if you like.

What a shame that there was an unsightly amount of trash on the beach, in the water and just everywhere we looked as it really detracted from the beauty of the lovely views.

What an arresting sight seeing the horseback riders galloping in the shallow waters just after sunset.

Younger people were racing their ATVs in the sandy parking lot.
We didn't stay too long at the beach because, as you can tell, it was already getting dark and we wanted to try and make our way back to the hotel in downtown Manama before it got pitch black. I remember hoping that we would see more of modern Bahrain the next day after discovering so much of its ancient civilizations!

Posted from Gondar, Ethiopia on November 17th, 2016.

1 comment:

  1. OMG!I am on my way🛫🛫🛫🛫🛫 I love this place!😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍 the pictures of you on the fort with sunset is mouthwatering!


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