Daily Archives: March 5, 2009

Qal’at al-Bahrain: Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

Posted by on March 5, 2009

World Heritage Site #55: Qal’at al-Bahrain: Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun: My 55th UNESCO World Heritage Site


From the World Heritage inscription for Qal’at al-Bahrain: Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun:

Qal’at al-Bahrain: Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun is an archaeological site comprising four main elements: an archaeological tell (an artificial hill formed over time by successive occupations) of over 16 hectares, immediately adjacent to the northern coast of Bahrain; a sea tower about 1600m North-West of the tell; a sea channel of just under 16 hectares through the reef near the sea tower, and palm-groves. The palm-groves and traditional agricultural gardens surround the site within the whole area of the land component of the buffer zone, being particularly noticeable on the Western and Northern sides, but also occurring on the Eastern and South-Eastern sides. The property is situated in the Northern Governorate, in Al Qalah village district on the northern coast about 5.5 km West of Manama, the present capital of Bahrain.

Qal’at al-Bahrain is an exceptional example of more or less unbroken continuity of occupation over a period of almost 4500 years, from about 2300 BC to the present, on the island of Bahrain. The archaeological tell, the largest known in Bahrain, is unique within the entire region of Eastern Arabia and the Persian Gulf as the most complete example currently known of a deep and intact stratigraphic sequence covering the majority of time periods in Bahrain and the Persian Gulf. It provides an outstanding example of the might of Dilmun, and its successors during the Tylos and Islamic periods, as expressed by their control of trade through the Persian Gulf. These qualities are manifested in the monumental and defensive architecture of the site, the wonderfully preserved urban fabric and the outstandingly significant finds made by archaeologists excavating the tell. The sea tower, probably an ancient lighthouse, is unique in the region as an example of ancient maritime architecture and the adjacent sea channel demonstrates the tremendous importance of this city in maritime trade routes throughout antiquity. Qal’at al-Bahrain, considered as the capital of the ancient Dilmun Empire and the original harbour of this long since disappeared civilisation, was the centre of commercial activities linking the traditional agriculture of the land (represented by the traditional palm-groves and gardens which date back to antiquity and still exist around the site) with maritime trade between such diverse areas as the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia in the early period (from the 3rd millennium BC to the 1st millennium BC) and China and the Mediterranean in the later period (from the 3rd to the 16th century AD). Acting as the hub for economic exchange, Qal’at al-Bahrain had a very active commercial and political presence throughout the entire region. The meeting of different cultures which resulted is expressed in the testimony of the successive monumental and defensive architecture of the site including an excavated coastal fortress dating from around the 3rd century AD and the large fortress on the tell itself dating from the 16th century which gives the site its name as Qal’at al-Bahrain, together with the wonderfully preserved urban fabric and the outstandingly significant and diverse finds demonstrating a mélange of languages, cultures and beliefs. For example, a madbasa (an architectural element used to produce date syrup) within the tell is one of the oldest in the world and reflects a link to the surrounding date palm-groves, demonstrating the continuity of traditional agricultural practices from the 1st millennium BC. The site, situated in a very strategic location, was an extremely significant part of the regional Gulf political network, playing a very active political role through many different time periods, which left traces throughout the different strata of the tell. Qal’at al-Bahrain is a unique example of a surviving ancient landscape with cultural and natural elements.

Bahrain isn’t a very big country. You could probably drive from end-to-end the long way in an hour. Despite its size, it has been a historically significant port. The image above is of the old ruins of the Qal’at al-Bahrain: Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun. Just on the other side of these ruins, not in camera, are the ruins of an old Portuguese fort which was on the site. There is also a museum on the site which is the best cultural center I’ve seen in the Gulf.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bahrain.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 2:55 am