According to historic manuscripts, Bahrain is located on the site of ancient Dilmun, one of the oldest trading civilizations in the world. Dilmun was a major port on the trading route between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley Civilization in the Bronze Age. Moreover, the Sumerians regarded Dilmun as a sacred land and part of their creation mythology. In the saga of Enki and Ninhursag – Enki is the Sumerian God of Creation, Intelligence, and Water, whereas Ninhursag is the mother goddess of fertility and mountains – Dilmun is described as “the pure clean and bright land of the living, the garden of the Great Gods and Earthly paradise”.
“Thus, from that moment on, Dilmun was blessed by Enki with everlasting agricultural and trade superiority, for through its waterways and quays, fruits and grains were sold and exchanged by the people of Dilmun and beyond.”
Sumerian Myth: Enki and Ninhursag
In classical antiquity, Bahrain, called Tylos by the ancient Greeks, became the center of the pearl trade for the emerging Hellenistic empire. Its pearl fisheries were considered the best in the world from ancient times to the 19th century. The pearling industry flourished until Japanese cultured pearls appeared on the market in the 1930s. Bahrain adopted the Islamic religion as early as the 7th century during the life of the Prophet Muhammad. After a period of Arab rule, Bahrain was controlled by the Portuguese and Persian Empires, followed by invasions from the ruling dynasties of Saudi Arabia and Oman. During Pax Britannica, the British Empire consolidated its trade routes and took over the role of ‘global policeman’. Under the treaty signed between Britain and Bahrain, the British must protect Bahrain in exchange for control over Bahraini foreign affairs. Following the rise of Arab nationalism across the Middle East, Bahrain gained its independence in 1971.
Following the turmoil of the Arab Spring, Bahrain is gradually rebuilding itself. Today, the remains of the city’s heritage as a busy port town are overshadowed by the symbols of modern opulence, vast air-conditioned shopping malls and soaring skyscrapers.
Bahrain National Museum
Bahrain National Museum can provide some context for understanding the regions history and culture. The collection of the museum is divided into four themed galleries. The Dilmun collection provides insight into the life of the ancient trading civilization of the Persian Gulf. The highlights of the exhibition are the Barbar temple treasures, the Saar settlement finds and the great collection of stamp-seals. On the one hand, the Tylos and Islam collection focuses on the time when Bahrain became the center of pearl trade in classical antiquity. On the other hand, it exhibits artifacts of Islamic decorative arts. The Customs and Traditions collection uses dioramas to illustrate different aspects of archipelago life in the early 20th century, such as the birth ceremony, traditional wedding, and religious practices. Similarly, the Traditional Trades and Crafts collection recreates a traditional Bahraini souq highlighting local craftsmanship. The exhibition also covers the pearling heritage that has shaped life in the region for thousands of years.
Beit Al Quran
Beit Al Quran [House of Quran] is a homage to Islam’s holiest book, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God. The museum has a finest collection of ancient Qurans in the region including manuscripts dating back to the birth of Islam in 610 AD as well as some of the earliest translations of the Quran into European languages. In addition to its rich collection of Qurans, the museum also has more than 50,000 books in Arabic, English and French focusing primarily on Islam. A curiosity of the museum is a copy of an 18th-century English translation of the Quran that was bought by Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Father and 3rd president of the United States.
Samuel Noah Kramer (1972) Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievements in the Third Millennium BC