30 historic sites in Bahrain

Bahrain already has one UNESCO world heritage site, now it wants more Discuss this article

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Bahrain’s World Heritage

Bahrain’s burial mounds have been the focus of numerous archaeological digs over the past sixty years. But there is still much more that can be learned from the people they encase, some of whom date back to 3000BC. Karim Hindily the UNESCO representative working with the Ministry of Culture and Information in Bahrain explains: ‘These are the densest concentrations of burial mounds found anywhere in the world from any period. They are an expression of the funerary practices of the Dilmun and Tylos eras that were prominent periods of trade between Mesopotamia, South Arabia and the Indian subcontinent.’

So far a total of 11 sites have been placed on a preliminary list by UNESCO, the preparatory stage for a World Heritage listing. To date, the Bahrain Fort (Qal’at Al Bahrain) is the country’s sole World Heritage Site, and its listing has provided the impetus for its preservation. However, in order for the burial mounds to be collectively listed, the government must act to preserve them, something of a touchy subject in recent years.

Salman Almahari, the Chief of Conservation for the Ministry of Culture and Information in Bahrain, is not oblivious to the threat they face. ‘The past 30 years have seen much urban development in Bahrain. Many burial mounds were destroyed in this process. We were forced to excavate what we could and documented the sites with drawings and photo’s for our archives. The artefacts that were recovered, like vases, glasses, weapons and bones, are stored in the National Museum. On completion of the excavation, building began for the causeway and other infrastructure during the 1970s. Now it’s imperative to have a balance between urban development and retaining these ancient sites.’

The Ministry of Culture and Information is encouraging cooperation with the land owners and is offering alternatives to preserve Bahrain’s heritage. An example of this is the village of Shakhurah which successfully blends the demand for housing with the preservation of the burial mounds by constructing dwellings around the mounds and maintaining them as a landscape feature. These mounds, some of the largest of the Tylos era in Bahrain, are now under the protection of the residents. Almahari said, ‘In the past archaeology has been generous to people establishing their homes on historical sites. The aim is not to prevent people from building their own homes but to consider relocation, building around or away from the sites.’

All building applications submitted to municipalities near archaeological sites are sent to the Ministry of Culture and Information for approval. This process has been instigated to halt any development that could affect archaeological sites, and ensures their survival.

The windfall for Bahrain’s tourism industry, were the country to get a second World Heritage listing, could be substantial. Almahari says, ‘This is Bahrain’s legacy, and the inheritance for future generations.’

By Jane Millard
Time Out Bahrain,

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