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). The site was the capital of the Dilmun, one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region. It contains the richest remains inventoried of this civilization, which was hitherto only known from written Sumerian references.
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Outstanding Universal Value
Qal'at al-Bahrain: Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun is an archaeological site comprising four main elements: an archaeological tell (an artificial hill formed over time by successive occupations) of over 16 hectares, immediately adjacent to the northern coast of Bahrain; a sea tower about 1600m North-West of the tell; a sea channel of just under 16 hectares through the reef near the sea tower, and palm-groves. The palm-groves and traditional agricultural gardens surround the site within the whole area of the land component of the buffer zone, being particularly noticeable on the Western and Northern sides, but also occurring on the Eastern and South-Eastern sides. The property is situated in the Northern Governorate, in Al Qalah village district on the northern coast about 5.5 km West of Manama, the present capital of Bahrain.
Qal'at al-Bahrain is an exceptional example of more or less unbroken continuity of occupation over a period of almost 4500 years, from about 2300 BC to the present, on the island of Bahrain. The archaeological tell, the largest known in Bahrain, is unique within the entire region of Eastern Arabia and the Gulf as the most complete example currently known of a deep and intact stratigraphic sequence covering the majority of time periods in Bahrain and the Gulf. It provides an outstanding example of the might of Dilmun, and its successors during the Tylos and Islamic periods, as expressed by their control of trade through the Gulf. These qualities are manifested in the monumental and defensive architecture of the site, the wonderfully preserved urban fabric and the outstandingly significant finds made by archaeologists excavating the tell. The sea tower, probably an ancient lighthouse, is unique in the region as an example of ancient maritime architecture and the adjacent sea channel demonstrates the tremendous importance of this city in maritime trade routes throughout antiquity. Qal'at al-Bahrain, considered as the capital of the ancient Dilmun Empire and the original harbour of this long since disappeared civilisation, was the centre of commercial activities linking the traditional agriculture of the land (represented by the traditional palm-groves and gardens which date back to antiquity and still exist around the site) with maritime trade between such diverse areas as the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia in the early period (from the 3rd millennium BC to the 1st millennium BC) and China and the Mediterranean in the later period (from the 3rd to the 16th century AD). Acting as the hub for economic exchange, Qal'at al-Bahrain had a very active commercial and political presence throughout the entire region. The meeting of different cultures which resulted is expressed in the testimony of the successive monumental and defensive architecture of the site including an excavated coastal fortress dating from around the 3rd century AD and the large fortress on the tell itself dating from the 16th century which gives the site its name as Qal'at al-Bahrain, together with the wonderfully preserved urban fabric and the outstandingly significant and diverse finds demonstrating a mélange of languages, cultures and beliefs. For example, a madbasa (an architectural element used to produce date syrup) within the tell is one of the oldest in the world and reflects a link to the surrounding date palm-groves, demonstrating the continuity of traditional agricultural practices from the 1st millennium BC. The site, situated in a very strategic location, was an extremely significant part of the regional Gulf political network, playing a very active political role through many different time periods, which left traces throughout the different strata of the tell. Qal'at al-Bahrain is a unique example of a surviving ancient landscape with cultural and natural elements.
Criterion (ii): Being an important port city, where people and traditions from different parts of the then known world met, lived and practiced their commercial activities, makes the place a real meeting point of cultures - all reflected in its architecture and development. Being in addition, invaded and occupied for long periods, by most of the great powers and empires, leaved their cultural traces in different strata of the tell.
Criterion (iii): The site was the capital of one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region - the Dilmun civilization. As such this site is the best representative of this culture.
Criterion (iv): The palaces of Dilmun are unique examples of public architecture of this culture, which had an impact on architecture in general in the region. The different fortifications are the best examples of defence works from the 3rd century B.C to the 16th century AD, all on one site. The protected palm groves surrounding the site are an illustration of the typical landscape and agriculture of the region, since the 3rd century BC.
With the extension of the site boundaries to include a second area to the World Heritage property comprising the ancient sea tower and the historic entrance channel (Decision 32 COM 8B.54), the known attributes that express Outstanding Universal Value are now within the property. The extension of the buffer zone by the same decision to include the visual corridor in the bay north of the site ensures that the relationship of the two parts of the property to each other and to the sea are maintained. The integration of this buffer zone into the National Planning and Development Strategies (2030) as a development exclusion zone endorsed by Royal Decree (November 2008) means that the exclusion corridor can only be crossed by a bridge at a minimal distance of 3 km to the shore (State Party's SoC report, 5 March 2009), thus ensuring that none of the attributes are threatended by development or neglect.
Apart from natural factors affecting the site through time, such as weathering, erosion, the harsh and windy climate, there have been no large impacts by either natural events or human actions. The many remaining structures as excavated are unaltered and have endured through 4 millennia, some walls still standing to a height of 4.5m. More than 85% of the tell is original and completely undisturbed. The surrounding adjacent landscape (both terrestrial and marine) is preserved and nearby developments, notably urban developments, have not compromised the visual or physical integrity of the property.
Authenticity is demonstrated by the long occupation sequence, expressed by the depth of the original stratigraphy, which is still in situ throughout the undisturbed part of the tell (less than 15% has been excavated). The original ensemble of structures, archaic urban fabric, tell, palm-groves and marine structures still exists and can be seen today to express the Outstanding Universal Value of the site in terms of form, materials and setting.
Protection and management requirements (2011)
The elements of Qal'at al-Bahrain are protected by laws (Law 11 of 1995, and Royal Decrees 21 of 1983, 26 of 2006 and 24 of 2008) in Bahrain. The tell is a National Monument (Ministerial Decree 1 of 1989). A zoning plan has been developed, in cooperation with other government departments, to control the height of surrounding buildings and the nature of future urban development, ensuring the maintenance of visual and physical integrity, including the visual corridor and marine elements added to the site by the World Heritage Committee in 2008 (32 COM 8B.54), and allowing for consultation with the managing bodies, the Directorate of Archaeology and Heritage and the Directorate of Museums in the Ministry of Culture, who monitor potential threats to the site and follow up conservation issues. The Directorate of Archaeology and Heritage needs to be consulted before any project is undertaken that threatens any archaeological site (Ministerial Order 1 of 1998). The site is fenced with on-site security. Visitor access is managed and monitored by the new on-site museum. The museum fulfils a very important role in the presentation/interpretation of the site and raises awareness of visitors, since it has been designed specifically to highlight the features of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and surrounding buffer zone. No current excavation is allowed, but there are plans for the management of future excavations and a programme of underwater archaeology, including survey of the ancient channel. The village community situated on the southern boundary of the tell is being moved to a new location away from the site.
Qal'at al-Bahrain is an archaeological site surrounded by palm groves. It has the shape and all the characteristics of a typical tel, created by successive occupation layers built one on top of the other. Archaeological excavations at the site started 50 years ago by a Danish expedition, working between 1954 and 1970, followed by a French expedition since 1978 and archaeologists from Bahrain since 1987.
The earliest stratum on the site, dated to around 2300 BC, consists of what were probably residential structures, located near the sea. This was the period when a thick masonry wall was constructed, to surround and protect the settlement. A later wall, possibly reinforcement of the first one, was erected around 1450 BC. Different occupation layers were uncovered in the central excavation area. The main architecture uncovered consists of a street, measuring 12 m in width, with large, monumental structures on both sides. The earlier buildings were modified and enlarged, to serve as the palace of the Kassite governor (the Kassites were the Mesopotamian colonizers of the site). In the same excavation area, several luxurious residences, with private and public spaces and elaborate sanitation system, also belong to the same period.
This was the site of an important port city, where people and traditions from different parts of the then known world met, lived and practised their commercial activities. It was the capital of one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region - the Dilmun civilization. A coastal fortress was excavated on the northern part of the site. It was probably not built before the 3rd century AD. Its building materials were reused for the construction later of the large medieval fortress - the Fort of Bahrain.
From the 16th century until the abandonment of the site, it served mainly for military purposes. A large fortress which was built on top of the tel dominates the site and even gave it its name. The large fortress of Bahrain has several building phases. The first phase dates to the beginning of the 15th century. In 1529 the first significant enlargement of the fortress and its moat took place, as well as its adaptation to modern artillery. The third phase is the one that gave the fortress its present form. This phase dates to 1561, when the island came under Portuguese rule and several corner bastions in Genoese style were added and the moat enlarged. The strengthening and enlargement of the fortress reflects the growing importance of the sea trade route to India and China, as well as the rivalries between the Principality of Hormuz, the Portuguese, the Persian Safavids and the Ottoman Turks. The old access channel, cut into the coral reef, which made the site attractive for centuries, had become almost completely silted up by this time, and could only be reached by small vessels and at high tide. This was also the main reason for the final abandonment of the whole site of Qal'at al-Bahrain, and its gradual transformation from a 4,500-year-old settlement to an archaeological site.
The palaces of Dilmun are unique examples of public architecture of this culture, which had an impact on architecture in general in the region. The different fortifications are the best examples of defensive works from the 3rd century BC to the 16th century AD, all on one site. The protected palm groves surrounding the site illustrate the typical landscape and agriculture of the region since the 3rd century BC. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC