Bahrain's Pearling Pathway

 One of many murals along Bahrain's Pearling Pathway

One of many murals along Bahrain's Pearling Pathway

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. 

 Signs (rather few and far between) direct pedestrians through the narrow Muharraq neighborhood.

Signs (rather few and far between) direct pedestrians through the narrow Muharraq neighborhood.

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:

 An example of traditional architecture, unrestored, with newer construction stuck on.

An example of traditional architecture, unrestored, with newer construction stuck on.

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.

 Glass windows fitted over traditional wooden window screens.

Glass windows fitted over traditional wooden window screens.

 I know you're looking at that green door. But notice, too, the restored woodwork on the second story to the right.

I know you're looking at that green door. But notice, too, the restored woodwork on the second story to the right.

 Murals (like this large-scale children's project) brightened up several walls that would otherwise have been stark white. 

Murals (like this large-scale children's project) brightened up several walls that would otherwise have been stark white. 

 Heavy, carved wooden doors like this and the one below are typical to this style of architecture.

Heavy, carved wooden doors like this and the one below are typical to this style of architecture.

 The clean, graceful lines and the stark contrast between wood and white plaster is so lovely.

The clean, graceful lines and the stark contrast between wood and white plaster is so lovely.

 This mural is right next door to the cool, traditional building in the previous picture (well, it's visible here at the left, though you're probably not noticing it here.)

This mural is right next door to the cool, traditional building in the previous picture (well, it's visible here at the left, though you're probably not noticing it here.)

 Imagine our surprise when the alley widened out and ... this! In several instances, the fairly narrow alleyway opened out into a courtyard, like a secret garden in the middle of the dense neighborhood.

Imagine our surprise when the alley widened out and ... this! In several instances, the fairly narrow alleyway opened out into a courtyard, like a secret garden in the middle of the dense neighborhood.

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?