Portugese Fort In Bahrain And A Journey Down The Historic Lanes

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Bahrain, May 6: Most of them call it Qalat Al Bahrain, meaning, the Bahrain Fort. Most obviously so, as it lies in Bahrain. Still many remember it as a Portugese Fort, remembering the brief period in history (16th century AD) during which the Portugese kept it in their control. This Fort, built in the 14th century, has over 600 years of existence, but as a Danish excavation team, headed by Professor P V Glob and Geoff Bibby, concluded 50 years ago, the site of this Fort and the adjoining areas has a history of close to 5,000 years. 27 to 29 April this year marked a festival celebration of the golden jubilee of excavations carried out by the Danish expedition team in 1955.

The 3-day festival was inaugurated by His Majesty the King, Shaikh Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa on 27 April. He was accompanied by the Prime Minister of Bahrain and Prince Andrew, duke of York, Great Britain. The 3-day festivities featured the traditional occupations of the ancient civilizations and a play titled ?The Land of the Kings? with extracts from the Epic of Gilgamesh (the oldest piece of literature found on the earth from ancient Sumeria ? interested may go to website: Gilgamesh.psnc.pl), narrating the history from 2900 BC (Dilmun civilization).


Through the years, the land has been called by different names, the most famous being Dilmun for the early civilization in 2900 BC. Later, it was known as Tylos under the all-conquering Greeks in and around 300 BC and as ?Awal? during the pre-Islamic era (up to 600 AD).

The current name, Bahrain, was used in the early Islamic era, and actually represented the region from Basra (Iraq) in the north up to Oman in the south. In the early 1500s, the Portugese, fond of the spices, silk and other commodities of the East, realized that Bahrain was a key trade link between the West and the prosperous East. They invaded Bahrain and set up a military base at the Fort in 1501. (This happened around the same time when Portugese set up their first presence in the western coast of India, from Goa to Cochin.)  Initially, this Fort was built by the then existing rulers and tribes of Bahrain to protect them against the invading Portugese. However, Persians grabbed the island back from the Portugese in 1603.

Gilgamesh and his mother, Ninsoon, are featured in the play titled “The Land of Kings” featuring Bahrain?s history through the last 5 millenia.

Bahrain changed hands between the warring Persians and Arabs until 1783, when it was finally conquered by Shaikh Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, the first ruler of the current Al Khalifa dynasty.

The country boasts of many firsts for the region. For example, the first oil well in the gulf was discovered in Bahrain in 1932, and in contrast, the first oil well in the world?s largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia was only in 1938. It?s a pity then that there is not much oil left in Bahrain!

Bahrain has always stayed close to India in its history! Bahrain was a key link for the trade route linking the East with the West. Bahrain and India (especially, Mangaloreans and Goans) share a special connection with the Portugese. Incidentally, the first plane to fly between London and Calcutta, in 1918, a Vickers Vimy Royal Air Force plane, landed in Bahrain en-route! Till 1965, India?s Reserve Bank of India controlled the local currency (and so in some other gulf countries). India?s rupee is still referred to in the souqs (market place), reluctant to give way to the dinars and fils.

Traditional drum beats and a ?head-balancing? hip shaker (version of belly dancing) welcome visitors to the historical Fort.

Perhaps the vast civilization history of the country has something to do with the tolerant culture of the Bahrainis in the current times. Bahrainis, despite being highly traditional and conservative, tolerate the western cultures, and religions from all over the world! The existence of several churches (of different groups), temples, worship halls, and expatriate clubs dates back much longer than elsewhere in the gulf. However, more and more gulf  countries have followed suit.


Current day Kingdom of Bahrain, is an archipelago of 33 islands in the Arabian/Persian Gulf. However, historical evidence suggests that, 6,000 years ego, Bahrain was part of the Arabian peninsula (similar to how Qatar is at the moment) which drifted away gradually due to the effects of the natural events. And as if to defy nature, the human brilliance connected Bahrain back to the Arabian mainland through a massive causeway bridge, linking Bahrain with all other countries of the Gulf, in 1986. Bahrain?s total area is increasing steadily, through the reclamation of sea (and not by any invasion!), which has increased from around 600 Square KMs in the mid nineties to over 700 Square KM currently. Its underground water resources makes it a naturally green land mass in the middle of the Arabian desert.

Newly built Tower welcoming visitors to the Bahrain Fort. Pictures indicate the artifacts found at various sites in and around the Fort indicating the existence of a civilization dating back to 2800 BC.

Various information included here are taken from a number of publications, specifically for the benefit of readers of Mangalorean.com.

Author: Agnel Pereira- Bahrain

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