Monday, 25 May 2009

Living on the Edge...

of water, desert, city, country, discovery, ancient civilisation.

sunny 43 °C
Manama, the capital city of Bahrain, locates at the Northern edge of the island country. The Seef district situates at the north western edge of Manama. Our hotel, Fraser Suites, in turns, positions at the north western edge of the Seef district. In fact, if our hotel is 50 metres further west, it would fall off the edge of the official map of Manama.

Looking out from the hotel window on level 10, I could see that the Seef district is in the new part of the city, judging from the empty sandy plots of land that scattered around outside my hotel. Manama, I was told, was Arabic for "Sleeping Place". This Sleeping Place was woken up by the noise of construction last few years, although the construction industry was taking a break during the Sub-prime crisis/debt bubble/credit crunch/the Great Recession of the last 18 months. The money dried up, the property development stopped. And the economic boom-bust cycle continues.

Seef district composed of either empty land or buildings being erected. It is a upscale district in the capital with its posh malls, trendy cafes and swanky cosmopolitan restaurants. As we drove through the area, it was obvious that there was an explosive construction boom before the financial crisis era. Most of the cranes are now idle, only a handful of development manage to carry on its works at the moment. Looking at the stationary cranes and deserted work sites, it seems incredible where was the demand for this property market came from considering the small size of this population (around 1.2 mil people, only 62% are Bahraini, read my previous diary). Of course, most of this properties are probably target at the Saudis across the strait. Still, it seems excessive (one of the prerequisite for our economic bust and the bursting of property bubbles everywhere).

Looking toward the north from my hotel window I can see the ocean, and the map tells me that it was only 1 km from my hotel. So I decided to take a walk at the water edge one day (was a 43 degree day). As I got to the water edge, I looked to my left and lo and behold an ancient fort appeared like a mirage in a desert. I checked the map again to see if I missed anything. Nope, nothing significant was marked on the map. I've got into a museum looking building next to the fort to seek out some answers. As it turned out, this was a Portuguese Fort, also known as Bahrain Fort, which was built in the 16th century by the Portuguese and it's also the archaeological site of the capital of the Dilmun civilisation. And I discovered it by accident! I felt like Hendrick Schliemann or Howard Carter. This happens to be the most important tourist/cultural/historical sight in Bahrain and I just stumbled upon it like a blind man.

Dilmun was a very ancient civilisation that was mentioned by the Sumerian and Babylonian. So in the modern day, this area maybe the newest part of the city, but its existence was one of the earliest of human history - an interesting twist in the development of a history plot.

Not that this tourist sight wasn't advertised. It was advertised in the official map of Bahrain, it just didn't feel there's any need to mark it on the map. The F1 Circuit was clearly marked on the map (in fact, you can't miss its large pictorial icon). Funny priority, but if you read my previous entry (just the title alone), you'll understand.

As this place was so close to our hotel, and there are such a lack of tourist sights here, I re-visited this place for another three times, at different time of the day to get different photos. I've done my tour of duty as a good tourist should.

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