The modern highways in Bahrain will ensure that you will easily skip central Muharaq that laps the charming souqs and narrow alleyways. Only those with a will to experience the magical beauty of the bygone era and feel the timelessness would venture into the heart of this place. The many alleyways literally transport you to an era where pearl diving and fishing was the way of life. To be in a square surrounded by traditional houses and listen to the prayer call is an unforgettable experience.
Some random photographs
Muharaq can be approached from the Diplomatic Area and Manama through two bridges: the old and the new. Taking the old bridge will see you reaching the thresholds of the entrance to Muharaq souq. The sail-bridge acts like a gateway to the old leaving behind the crowd and commerce of Manama behind. The souq brims with commerce, no doubt; spices, textiles, antiques, sweet shops. How that differs from modern day commerce is something everyone must see to comprehend.
Muharaq was the country’s capital in the 19th Century and still has much of the charm of an old-world Arab city, with its low-rise buildings, narrow streets and tiny alleyways, and fine historic buildings with their traditional Arab-Gulf style of architecture.
In the recent years there has been many activities of renovation in the area with many older historic buildings restored and opened to the public. Much of the renovation and restoration work has been initiated by the Minister for Culture, Shaikha Mai Bint Mohamed Al Khalifa who, with the support of private sponsors, is keen to protect and preserve the cultural heritage of Bahrain for future generations. Souq Al Qaisariya is a crowning example to her initiative.
Over four millennia ago, the islands that collectively form Bahrain today were part of a thriving Bronze Age Dilmun culture and a hub for trade and commerce within the region. Muharraq, with its strategic location, must have played a key part. In the Tylos or Greek period of influence (from about 300 BC to the early First Millennium), Muharaq was known as Arados, from which Arad Fort gets its name.
Muharaq souq is relatively smaller than Manama Souq but it is less touristy and worth a visit. It dates back to the early 19th Century when the souq had special areas for grocers, bakers, sweet makes, herbalists, goldsmiths, and ship suppliers, as well as other artisans and professional trades. As in many market places around the world, parking within the souq may be something of chance but one can find sufficient parking near the Post Office or around the bus station. Muharaq bus station is one of the major operating hubs for the Dubai based company CARS that operates a fleet of 50-seater air conditioned Mercedes buses and Toyota mini buses, equipped with electronic route display boards, air curtains at the entrance and automated ticketing machines.
One can find a variety of outlets and some interesting antique shops where restored furniture, old doors and other curiosities can be found. The souq is busy, but local men still have time to sit in the many tea and coffee shops to drink shay, or tea, and qahwa, a lightly roasted coffee flavoured with cardamom.
In summary, the streets of central Muharaq might not be spectacular to a casual visitor. The authenticity of the streets and buildings might be just like any other Arab city. A walk through the streets looking what kind of shops there are and some century-old living house or a small, nice looking mosque in itself is rewarding. The people you meet, who often seemed to be relaxing for ages with a cup of coffee or a tea, do work hard; many of them having their own businesses in the same area. If you happen to carry a camera, the kids and men sure expect you to capture a frame that includes them, often with a broad, warm smile; warmer than the gahwa and sweeter than the halwa.