Pearl diving was an important industry in Bahrain from around 2000 BC until the 1930s when the Japanese introduced the cultured pearl and the whole market came crashing down. On the northern end of Bahrain, on the island of Muharraq, a new (2012) UNESCO World Heritage Site picks out the historical clues in the neighborhood where Bahrain's pearl divers and merchants lived and worked. UNESCO's designation also includes a few oyster beds just offshore and a bit of coastline.
We parked and walked into the Muharraq neighborhood not at all knowing what to expect, and at first we weren't sure we were in the right place. Lots of small businesses and apartment houses cast shadows across narrow alleys crammed full of cars. Then we started noticing that some of the buildings looked much older than others. Like this:
Notice the horizontal timbers sticking out all in a line near the roofline on the left side of the building. That's a typical, traditional building style here. Those timbers--really just long sticks or branches--run all the way across the roof and form the framework for a ceiling of woven palm fronds or other matting.
Seeing stuff like this we thought, oh boy, this is going to be an architectural scavenger hunt. However, as we wound deeper into the neighborhood we found more and more restored buildings. It was clear that something of an arts and cultural community is beginning to take root.
Below are several shots from our walk in the heart of the Pearling Pathway.
By the end of the afternoon we were hot and tired, and we weren't sure whether we'd find our car again before the sun set, parked as it was in one of the neighborhood's thousand narrow alleyways. I hope to go back (when the weather is much, much cooler than it is now) and check out the galleries and restaurants that are tucked back in the Pearling Pathway. You definitely have to dig a little to find Bahrain's historical architecture and its non-shopping-mall attractions--but they're here. Wouldn't you agree?