We saw these large banners strung across some of the streets but had no clue what they meant since they were all in Arabic.
Built on reclaimed land in 1984 and capable of holding up to 7,000 worshippers, Al-Fatih Mosque is the largest building in the country.
On arrival at the mosque, all visitors had to enter the library prior to joining a free tour of the prayer hall. I needed to wear an 'abaya' - a full length cloak worn over a dress - as I was only wearing short sleeves. I had taken care to dress as conservatively as I could otherwise, wearing a full length skirt and my scarf to honor the Muslim religion and culture.
While waiting for our tour to begin, I read the following about the Muslim observance of the last day, i.e. Friday, their Sabbath. It sounded like wise words regardless of one's faith.
We have been to many mosques in places all over the world outside of the US but have never had an officially guided tour before. Ibrahim, the guide, told the group it took four years to construct the magnificent mosque and that no expense was spared in any part of the mosque.
The glorious chandelier was from Vienna.
The linen carpet was from Ireland.
The teakwood for the prayer niche was imported from India and carved by local Bahrainis. The location of the niche signified the prayer direction, i.e. to Mecca.
Ibrahim said this pink calligraphy was all in right angles showing it was Kufic script which was the oldest calligraphic form of Arabic used to record the writings of the Qu'ran.
Ibrahim pointed out the pretty Iranian stained glass windows.
Some non-Muslims visiting the Mosque reported that they they 'felt transported into a timeless age of peace and tranquility while marveling at the simple magnificence of its art and architecture.' We both enjoyed seeing the mosque but in no way were we as enraptured with the Al-Fateh Mosque. I think a more engaging guide would have helped.
In such an oil-rich country, it was surprising how few gas stations there were. Steven had had to google locations of a number of them so we wouldn't be caught with an empty tank. The good thing was though, once we found a station, it only cost $7 to fill up! There was a very impressive array of super highways crisscrossing the city that helped get us from the mosque to our next stop southwest of the city.
We were certainly never far from either the desert or the sea in Manama.
We had a devil of a time finding the Al Jasra Handicrafts Centre in the community of the same name as signage in Manama was really bad. We would see one sign for a place but then nothing after that. It was rather frustrating to put it mildly and not at all tourist friendly. Everything we wanted to see took so much more time than we had initially figured because of the many one-way signs and absence of signs. In hindsight, we should have gotten a GPS of course.
It was so maddening that, after finally finding the Centre, it was again closed because it was a Saturday apart from the basket and chest workhops.
The baskets were really attractive but again too big to lug in our suitcases for the next six weeks.
Steven was so glad that no audio guide was available as he thought I would have wanted to spent a couple of hours learning more about the burial site! Now, why would he ever think that?!
Since there wasn't one, we just mosied around wondering about the ancient people and the lives they led.
Since we were the only ones wandering around the hallowed ground, there was a special privilege being able to stroll unchecked among the cradles of the dead as one travel writer wrote.
As A'Ali is the site of Bahrain's best known pottery workshop, we visited it.
It was a large site so we just strolled around for a bit, peering into doorways and seeing what was there.
In the middle of the factory area, we came across more burial mounds that we hadn't known were there. There was a helpful information panel here which said there were actually 17 royal mounds in the village. That made sense because we sure had seen a lot of very big mounds just a few minutes earlier. This was Mound 8 and the only fully excavated one. Unlike the other mounds this one was asymmetrical and had five side niches. A sixth one was planned but was closed off probably during the construction process. The niches were probably filled with grave goods.
The sign said the Royal Mounds usually consisted of two levels with the lower burial chamber having from four to six side niches with plastered walls. Based on the archeological remains as well as the size, architecture and location of the mounds, a hierarchial social structure could be observed. Royal mounds are assumed to have been built for the kings and queens of the Dilmun period.
I was so glad that we had just happened to come across these other Royal Mounds and especially the information panel so we could understand and appreciate more of what we were looking at.
Babar was a complex of 2nd and 3rd millennium BC temples dedicated to Enki, the God of Wisdom and the Sweet Water From Under the Sea. have you ever heard of a longer title?!
Even though the village of Bani Jamrah is famous as a center for traditional textile weaving, visitors are discouraged from walking around it unfortunately. For some reason, the village and its two temples were only signposted coming from one direction. We couldn’t understand why Manama’s road planners decided drivers could only drive in one direction for about five miles with no opportunities to turn around if there was something they wanted to see or stop at on the other side of the road. Never have we tried so hard looking for craft centers and ways to spend money on local handicrafts!
What a hoot watching from a distance as the two women tried to get on the jet ski yet but couldn't quite manage it with their abayas. Thank goodness they had a great sense of humor as they fell off, laughing all the while!
The traffic was so bad that I at least was able to get out of the car and take pictures of the sun setting down at 5 over the Gulf from the side of the road.
Paul: I thought of you as we saw a number of cars with Kuwaiti license plates.
To Steven’s profound relief, we finally found a spot to turn around and head back to Manama and the airport.
Of course, despite all of Steven’s prior concerns, we got to the airport early and had loads of time before our flight to Doha, the capital of the neighboring country of Qatar. A number of airports we’ve gone through this trip have had these buttons to push to gauge service for passport control, cleanliness of bathrooms, security check, etc. What a marvelous idea and one I wish more airports would adopt.
The fellow at the Bahraini passport check asked if we were transiting through Doha or staying put for a few days. When we said we would be staying for three nights, he said ‘Good Luck’ as in what would we do there for so long! We wondered for a moment whether we had goofed and planned too much time there. Time will tell.
As you can probably gather from reading this and the previous post on Manama, our stay on the island had been one of our least favorite places this trip. Yes, the Al-Fateh Mosque and the Bahrain National Museum had been good and seeing some of the sites that showcased the nation's ancient past was interesting but the big negative of trying to get around combined with few sights other than archeological ones outweighed the positives for us. Whether we might have had a more optimistic experience if we simply had had a GPA and we weren't visiting over the Muslim weekend when so many sights were closed, we'll never know.
Posted from Nairobi, Kenya on November 19th, 2016.