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Manama is the capital and largest city of Bahrain, with an approximate population of 155,000 people. Long an important trading center in the Persian Gulf, Manama is home to a very diverse population. After periods of Portuguese and Persian control and invasions from the ruling dynasties of Saudi Arabia and Oman, Bahrain established itself as an independent nation during the 19th century period of British hegemony. In the 20th century, Bahrain's oil wealth helped spur fast growth and in the 1990s a concerted diversification effort led to expansion in other industries and helped transform Manama into an important financial hub in the Middle East. Manama was designated as the capital of Arab culture for the year 2012 by the Arab League.

Manama was mentioned in Islamic chronicles at least as far back as 1345. It was conquered by Portugal in 1521 and then by the Persians in 1602. Since 1783 it has been under the control of the Al-Khalifa dynasty. Manama was declared a free port in 1958, and in 1971 it became the capital of independent Bahrain.

The north of Bahrain’s main island, which is dominated by Manama today, has seen human activity for roughly 5,000 years, as is indicated from the remains around Bahrain Fort. Early inhabitants are often associated with the historical Dilmun Civilisation though the historical records of Dilmun are scanty. The islanders were soon, however, disturbed by a series of invaders, beginning with the Assyrians during the BC period and ending with the Arabs. During these many centuries Bahrain was a trading post whose importance fluctuated depending on which empire dominated. Manama and its inhabitants were first introduced to Islam during the 7th century and by the 9th century began to lean to a more esoteric view of Islam and practiced a quasi-socialist belief system (though it also contained massive slave labor) that caused considerable friction with the surrounding Muslim lands. The Qarmatians, as this group was known, began waylaying pilgrims on the hajj to Mecca killing thousands, culminating in the ransack of Mecca in 930 escaping with the much revered Black Stone. A feud with the Baghdad-based Abbasids less than 50 years later saw the Qarmatians leave the town, returning the stone.

Manama has a wide range of universities, colleges and schools.

Ahlia University

Applied Science University

Arab Open University

Arabian Gulf University

Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance

Delmon University

New York Institute of Technology


Bahrain School

How to Reach

Bahrain International Airport is located on Muharraq Island, approximately 7 km (4 mi) from the CBD. It is a premier hub airport in the Middle East. Strategically located in the Northern Persian Gulf between the major markets of Saudi Arabia and Iran, the airport has one of the widest range and highest frequency of regional services with connections to major international destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America.

The four main islands and all the towns and villages are linked by well-constructed roads. There were 3,164 km (1,966 mi) of roadways in 2002, of which 2,433 km (1,512 mi) were paved. A causeway stretching over 2.8 km (2 mi), connect Manama with Muharraq Island, and another bridge joins Sitra to the main island. A four-lane highway atop a 24 km (15 mi) causeway, linking Bahrain with the Saudi Arabian mainland via the island of Umm an-Nasan was completed in December, 1986, and financed by Saudi Arabia. In 2000, there were 172,684 passenger vehicles and 41,820 commercial vehicles.

Places to Visit

Al Fateh Grand Mosque
The Al-Fateh Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world, encompassing 6,500 square meters and having the capacity to accommodate over 7,000 worshippers at a time. The mosque is the largest place of worship in Bahrain.

Beit al-Quran
With its wrapping of carved Kufic script, the distinctive Beit al-Quran is a fine example of modern Bahraini architecture. It was opened in 1990 as a museum and research centre, and houses a large and striking collection of Qurans, manuscripts and woodcarvings. It functions as a good introduction to Islam in general, and Islamic calligraphy in particular. Look out for the miniature Qurans, the smallest of which (from 18th-century Persia) measures only 4.7cm by 3.2cm.

Bab al-Bahrain
Built by the British in 1945, Bab al-Bahrain, the 'Gateway to Bahrain' was originally designed by Sir Charles Belgrave. It was redesigned in 1986 to give it more of an 'Islamic' flavour. The small square in front of the bab (gate) was once the terminus of the customs pier (which provides some idea of the extent of land reclamation in the area). The building now houses the Tourist Department and a souvenir shop.

Despite having been moved back from the water's edge, the gateway is still aptly named, as goods of various description, people of all nationalities, street vendors, shoppers and workers pass under its arches in a constant pageant of activity in this, the heart of Manama.

Bahrain National Museum
Deserving its reputation as the most popular tourist attraction in Bahrain, the Bahrain National Museum is the best place to start for an intriguing, well-labelled introduction to the sights of the country. It's housed in a fine, post-modern building with landscaping that brings the waterfront location up to the windows.

The museum showcases archaeological finds from ancient Dilmun and includes beautiful agate and carnelian beads and earthenware burial jars - used for the body as well as its chattels. It also outlines the history of pearl fishing with a delightful diorama of a dhow, complete with divers and pullers, sharks and angel fish. There is also a section with wonderful narrative on contemporary Bahraini culture - the reproduction souq on the 1st floor is particularly worth the stairs, as the barber could double for Sweeney Todd. The museum also includes a wildlife hall, several gallery spaces used for contemporary exhibitions of art and sculpture, a shop selling Bahraini crafts, and a chic coffeehouse with armchairs. There's plenty to keep the family amused for several hours, but it will reward even a quick 10-minute visit.

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