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Muharraq, the former capital of Bahrain, has a true one-thousand-and-one-nights vibe. Wander through the small streets of this authentic part of Bahrain and discover an ancient castle and antique mosque with a minaret made of clay. The traditional houses display beautifully decorated doors and wind catchers that blow in the breeze. Visit nostalgic sweet shops and tea houses where Bahrainis relax with a hookah pipe wearing their traditional dishdasha robes.
Today Bahrain is a prosperous and strategically located business centre, and before any oil was found it was a peaceful and solitary island state. The locals made a living diving for pearls, working with traditional crafts and catching fish. Cross the bridge from the modern capital of Manama and step back in time on the island of Muharraq. Over the past decades, many of the traditional Arab houses have been restored and transformed into museums, cultural centres and boutique hotels. Check out 3 of the highlights of Muharraq.
One of the prime examples of traditional Islamic architecture is the Palace of Sheik Isa Bin Ali al-Khalifa, the King of Bahrain for 6 decades from 1869. While most houses are quite small and built closely together, the Palace comprises an entire block. It has 4 courtyards – one for the King, one for his wives, one for his servants and one for guests – surrounded by fabulously carved wooden doors. The geometric figures in the windows let in a dazzling but filtered light.
In and around the souk are countless shops that trade in halwa, traditional Bahrain sweets made with nuts, corn flour, and saffron or cardamom. The shop of Hussain Moh'd Showaiter is a century-and-a-half old, and serves as a living museum with a mahogany counter, display cases, a sky-blue ceiling and elegant Art Deco lamps. The halwa, a cross between Turkish baklava and a syrupy jam, is scooped from a large, simmering pot, ready to be enjoyed with a cup of delicious coffee.
Against the background of the glistening twin towers of the World Trade Centre, rows of dhows are ready to set sail. These traditional Arab trading vessels with their curved hull, huge sails and long bowsprit are still being built at the shipyard in the fishing port of Muharraq. They are rarely used for pearl diving or fishing anymore though; instead they are used for transportation. The crafts are handed down from father to son and require no construction drawings to build.