Qal'at al-Bahrain - Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

Qal'at al-Bahrain - Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

Qal'at al-Bahrain, capital of Dilmun, one of the most important ancient civilisations of eastern Arabia, is situated on the northem coast of Bahrain, five kilometres west of Manama.

Qal’at al-Bahrain is a typical tell – an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation. The strata of the 300 × 600 m tell testify to continuous human presence from about 2300 BC to the 16th century AD.

About 25% of the site has been excavated, revealing structures of different types: residential, public, commercial, religious and military. They testify to the importance of the site, a trading port, over the centuries.

On the top of the 12 m mound there is the impressive Portuguese fort, which gave the whole site its name, qal’a (fort).

Qal'at, meaning fort, is a 12 metre high archaeological mound formed by successive layers of human occupation. Palm groves surrounding the site are part of a landscape that has changed little since the third century BC.

Excavations starting in the mid 20th century have revealed residential, public, commercial, religious and military structures that indicate the site's continuous occupation from 2300 BC to the 16th century AD. The architectural ruins of successive empires attest to the site's strategie position as a gateway to Arabia and an important port on the Arabian Gulf.

Six civilisational strata can be identified in the mound. The earliest, a Dilmun settlement near the sea surrounded by a masonry wall, dates to around 2300 BC. Farther inland, excavations uncovered a 12 metre wide street flanked by monumental structures, including a palace dating from 2200-1800 BC.

These buildings were enlarged in the Middle Bronze Age (1450-1300 BC) by Mesopotamian Kassite colonisers who transformed them into a palace. Another settlement built over this stratum in the Iron Age featured luxurious residences and a sanitation system dating from the 11 th to the fifth century BC.

A monumental, two pillared temple that used the 13th century palace as a foundation dates to the same period. The densely built fifth layer, from which Greek ceramic and glass pottery was excavated, corresponds to the third century BC when the Greeks invaded Dilmun and changed its name to Tylos.

The top stratum - from the 14th century Middle Islamic period when Tylos was renamed Awal - includes a dense urban area and a structure that was perhaps a caravanserai.

In 1561, Portuguese colonists enlarged a 15th century hilltop fort with Genovese style corner bastions. Dominating the site, the fort overlooks a fossilised coral reef cut through by a sea channel that allowed access to the harbour and made Qal'at al-Bahrain, for centuries, an important commercial port.

Qal'at al-Bahrain, the best known exemplar of Dilmun civilisation, was called "the land of the living" in the Sumerian creation myth and described as paradise in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Other World Heritage Sites

Northern Region
N26 13 59.016 E50 31 19.992
Date of Inscription: 2005
Minor modification inscribed year: 2008
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)
Property : 32 ha
Buffer zone: 1,238 ha
Ref: 1192bis