Qal'at al-Bahrain




Qal'at al-Bahrain

Site Information

Country: Kingdom of Bahrain
State: Manama
Location: 26° 14' 0" N - 50° 31' 12" E
Field Documentation Date(s): June 1st, 2007
Project Release Date(s): February 26th, 2009
Time Range: 2300 BCE - 1600 CE
Era: Dilmun, Tylos, Middle Islamic
Culture: Dilmun, Babylonian, Islamic, Portuguese
Site Authority: Bahraini Ministry of Culture and Information
Heritage Listing: UNESCO World Heritage Center
world map with location

TruView of the southeast bastion

Site Description

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Qal’at al-Bahrain is the most important archaeological site of the Bahrain archipelago and, very probably, its ancient capital during Antiquity. Qal’at al-Bahrain is much more than a single fortress facing the sea: the late Islamic/Portuguese defensive building (hereafter the Main Fortress) which crowns the site (and has lent its name to it) only represents the latest architectural testimony of a long and illustrious history.

Archaeological work conducted at the site during the last fifty years has demonstrated that this artificial hill, 17.5 hectares in size, reveals an almost continuous stratigraphy from ca. 2300 BCE to the 16th century CE, with the exception of some enigmatic gaps in the Old Babylonian (ca. 1700-1450 BCE) and Early Islamic periods (6th to 13th century CE).
The tell (archaeological mound/hill) of Qal’at al-Bahrain is situated on the northern coast of Bahrain, approximately 5 km to the west of Bahrain's present capital of Manama. Prominently large (about 650 x 300 meters), the site appears as a wide clearing of 17.5 hectares surrounded by palm groves and gardens on its east, south and west sides and the sea to the north. The site's altitude is 11.2 meters above sea level at its highest point.

About 15% of the surface area of the Qal’at al-Bahrain site is occupied by a huge fortress dating primarily from the 14th and 15th centuries CE, partly restored by the Portuguese colonial occupants in the 16th century. This fort constitutes the most spectacular standing architectural monument on the site, and has lent its name to the entire tell - Qal'at al-Bahrain.

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History

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Qal’at al-Bahrain is a typical tell
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3D elevation color map of Qal'at al-Bahrain, created from laser scan data

Project Narrative

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Qal’at al-Bahrain Project Objectives have been developed on 5 main components as follows:

- Documentation
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TruView of the northwest bastion

Preservation

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As of January 2004, the totality of the surrounding dry moat has been cleared out down to its original base level which, in most locations, coincides with the bedrock level; the counterscarp wall was restored and reconstructed in the few sections where it has almost completely disappeared (mainly due to stone plundering by local people after the abandonment of the fortress in the 17th century). In addition, the enclosure of the first fort with its flanking towers, the enlarged curtain walls of the second stage, and the bastions and the Spur Tower of the third stage have all been restored or reconstructed in their totality.

The inner structures (stables, the fortified bastion behind the gate, the group of dwellings alongside the inner southeast and northern curtain walls, the madbasa/date press devices built in the central courtyard, etc.), were partly restored but not reconstructed and are thus preserved in the same state as at the time of their discovery. Restoration work has carefully respected the integrity of the ground plan and structures surveyed or exposed by the archaeologists. Similarly, the restoration materials (stones, mortars and plaster coatings) were carefully chosen.

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Area Descriptions

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Central Archaeological Area
City Wall
Coastal Fortress
Main Fortress
Enlargement
First Enclosure
Lion's Head
Northwest Bastion
Southeastern Bastion
Southwest Bastion
Spur Tower

Central Archaeological Area

Central Archaeological Area Description:

Since the mid-1950s, the Central Archaeological Area has been subject to archaeological excavations and research into its many different temporal periods. During these investigations, most of the different layers of the site were explored (Early Dilmun, Middle Dilmun, Late Dilumn, Tylos, Islamic). More recently, since 1989, a French Mission has been working to complete the restoration of a very significant architectural complex within the Central Archaeological Area known as the "Assyrian Palace" or "Palace of Uperi", dating to Middle and Late Dilmun Phases. In addition, the Central Archeological Area has also provided evidence of later occupation (Islamic Periods) in the form of domestic construction, though very few aboveground remains have been preserved. In general, archaeologists and conservationists have treated this Central Archaeological Area with utmost care. Post-excavation conservation and consolidation works started immediately after excavation seasons, utilizing stringent efforts to retain form, material, and setting authenticity. The consolidation work in general was all done in gypsum, to keep with the original character of the site. Currently, there is a simple, nonintrusive pedestrian paved path that goes around this area at its upper level.


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City Wall

City Wall Description:

The settlement at Qal'at al-Bahrain was surrounded by a stone wall during the early phases of its history. Archaeological soundings located this rampart in several spots on the northern, western and southern slopes of the tell (mound). Up till now, no excavations have been carried out to locate any parts of the fort on the eastern slope of the hill. The uncovered walls portions follow the cardinal directions and are at right angles to each other; they enclose an area of about 12 hectares, but, due to limited excavation data at present, it is difficult to prove that this entire enclosed area was built up in the Early Dilmun phase of the site. The wall has been closely investigated only on its northern side. Due to the refilling of several of the aforementioned archaeological soundings, this northern portion at the moment is the only visible part of this long enclosure; it is exposed along a length of 46 meters in an area situated ca. 30 meters south of the Coastal fortress. This visible section is the result of successive periods of construction or rebuilding, thus most of its facades are of later construction.


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Coastal Fortress

Coastal Fortress Description:

The Coastal Fortress is a square stone building of perfect North-South orientation, surrounded by a main enclosure wall measuring 51.5 meters on each side. The building is equipped with three-quarter-circular towers in the Northwest, Northeast and Southwest corners (the Southeast corner has been destroyed), as well as semi-cylindrical towers in the middle of each facade. On the middle on the East wall are two quarter-circular towers flanking the entrance of the fortress. The interior of this fortress was symmetrically laid out around a central square courtyard of fairly modest dimensions (12.5 x 12.5 meters). From the corners of this paved courtyard, walls divide the interior of the building into four architectural quadrants, separated by four circulation areas, shaped as cross-arms, and converging towards the central open space. Each of these quadrants appears as a dwelling ensemble set around an individual small square courtyard. The rigorous symmetry of the building layout is striking. The inner area of the Coastal fortress covers a total surface of ca. 2,260 square meters. This surface area is divided into approx. 1,900 sq. meters of originally roofed areas and approx. 360 sq. meters of open spaces (courtyards, cross-arms alleys), representing some 20% of the inner surface. The building structure reveals both its defensive and residential functions. The defensive function is essentially represented by the enclosure of the building. This construction, 2.35 meters thick, is transpierced by a line of loop holes with either simple or double embrasures (20 to 25 along each façade). The entrance to the West was defended by two flanking towers; additionally, a security postern opening onto the beach was concealed at the base of the North tower. The fortress was protected on the South and Southeast (the inland side) by a dry moat 7 meters wide and more than 5 meters deep. The fort's residential function appears equally obvious. Its narrow entrance (1.5 meters) would not have allowed carts to enter, as well as its small courtyards that acted primarily as shafts for bringing in daylight and assuring proper ventilation, it seems the essential function of the fortress was to lodge a small garrison. With an interior surface around 2200 square meters it could accommodate roughly 50 soldiers. Archaeological research has centered on the construction of the dwellings (small courtyards with porticos, for example), confirming this monument's residential function: most likely the residence of an important personage on the island.


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Main Fortress

Main Fortress Description:

The Main Fortress, which dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, can be considered to be a remarkable example of the evolution of a military architectural construction and its successive improvements; including enlargement, the reinforcement of the curtain walls, the creation of interior boulevards designed for circulation and the deployment of artillery, and, finally, the construction of modern defense bastions based on the European models. All of these elements were designed to adapt the fort to the progress of weaponry and defense techniques. This huge architectural complex, surrounded by a wide and deep moat, occupies 2.6 hectares of the surface of Qal'at al-Bahrain archaeological tell. Its present form is the result of a long architectural development between the 15th and the early 17th century CE, which now, due to the long and heavy restoration work carried out by the administration of the Kingdom of Bahrain between 1988 and 2004, is now a major tourist attraction.


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Enlargement

Enlargement Description:

The Fortress Enlargement represents the first expansion built in 1529 under the governorship of Badr el-Din (nephew of the vizir of Hormuz). This construction adapted the earlier building to modern artillery defense, mostly by the addition of a new surrounding enclosure and boulevards as well as enlargement of the moat.


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First Enclosure

First Enclosure Description:

The First Enclosure represents a simple fortified enclosure built at the beginning of the 15th century under commission from the Princes of Hormuz, a new dynasty from the South of Iran.


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Lion's Head

Lion's Head Description:

Lion's Head is the last reinforcement of the enlarged Qal'at al-Bahrain fortress. It dates from 1561 and was ordered by the Portuguese colonial administration (which several years earlier had already taken control of the Hormuz) in order to withstand the assault of the Ottoman Turks.


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Northwest Bastion

Northwest Bastion Description:

Qal'at al-Bahrain's bastions are well-built and of a fine architectural quality. They made possible a coherent defense of the whole site by utilizing two levels of defensive firepower. On the lower level, cross-fire from inner casemates allowed the elimination of any blind spot inside the moat; on the upper level, the guns placed on the terraces of these bastions efficiently covered the entire surface and surrounding areas of the Qal'at al-Bahrain tell (mound).


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Southeastern Bastion

Southeastern Bastion Description:

Qal'at al-Bahrain's bastions are well-built and of a fine architectural quality. They made possible a coherent defense of the whole site by utilizing two levels of defensive firepower. On the lower level, cross-fire from inner casemates allowed the elimination of any blind spot inside the moat; on the upper level, the guns placed on the terraces of these bastions efficiently covered the entire surface and surrounding areas of the Qal'at al-Bahrain tell (mound). This last technique and its military advantage are notably evident when one looks at the upper platform of the Southwest bastion (the most important in size and volume, as well as the lowest in the moat), the altitude of which is just a few meters higher than the site area facing it. These three corner-bastions possess a system of two inner casemates, with gun ports strictly oriented according to the axis of the moat section they are protecting. These lowly placed casemates are accessible by steep stairways and are generally covered with cupolas, replete with a vent at the keystone to evacuate the firing smoke. In the particular case of the Southwest bastion, its western casemate displays, rather than a cupola, a semi-circular vault borne by two ceiling-beam arches. All these bastions, at last, are equipped with "ears", a masonry protrusion that protects the gun ports from the famous "embrasure shot": an oblique shot in which the attacker's projectile can ricochet off the cheek of the gun port and thus enter the casemate. According to the specialists who studied them, these three massive buildings, although designed and edified by a great Portuguese architect, also reflect the traditional Italian (and more particularly Genoese) influence of that time. They actually represent a remarkable adaptation of the theoretical principles outlined in the Italian treatises of the mid-16th century, subsequently applied to the complex fortress which crowned the Qal'at al-Bahrain site at this period.


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Southwest Bastion

Southwest Bastion Description:

Qal'at al-Bahrain's bastions are well-built and of a fine architectural quality. They made possible a coherent defense of the whole site by utilizing two levels of defensive firepower. On the lower level, cross-fire from inner casemates allowed the elimination of any blind spot inside the moat; on the upper level, the guns placed on the terraces of these bastions efficiently covered the entire surface and surrounding areas of the Qal'at al-Bahrain tell (mound). This last technique and its military advantage are notably evident when one looks at the upper platform of the Southwest bastion (the most important in size and volume, as well as the lowest in the moat), the altitude of which is just a few meters higher than the site area facing it. These three corner-bastions possess a system of two inner casemates, with gun ports strictly oriented according to the axis of the moat section they are protecting. These lowly placed casemates are accessible by steep stairways and are generally covered with cupolas, replete with a vent at the keystone to evacuate the firing smoke. In the particular case of the Southwest bastion, its western casemate displays, rather than a cupola, a semi-circular vault borne by two ceiling-beam arches. All these bastions, at last, are equipped with "ears", a masonry protrusion that protects the gun ports from the famous "embrasure shot": an oblique shot in which the attacker's projectile can ricochet off the cheek of the gun port and thus enter the casemate. According to the specialists who studied them, these three massive buildings, although designed and edified by a great Portuguese architect, also reflect the traditional Italian (and more particularly Genoese) influence of that time. They actually represent a remarkable adaptation of the theoretical principles outlined in the Italian treatises of the mid-16th century, subsequently applied to the complex fortress which crowned the Qal'at al-Bahrain site at this period.


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Spur Tower

Spur Tower Description:

At the center of the South facade of the Main Fortress is a distinctive, massive tower, the 24 meters-high upper terrace of which constitutes the highest level of the entire fortified building. Curiously, it occupies the entire width of the southern boulevard and possesses a corridor at its base to allow circulation between the South and Southwest bastions. This construction, with a jutting spur that looks like the beak of a parrot, was mainly designed for the protection of the fortress keep, acting as a shield for it. Its elevated upper platform was also an excellent look-out post, with an sweeping overview toward the interior of the island.


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