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Manama, City of Trade, Multiculturalism and Religious Coexistence

Date de soumission : 20/07/2018
Critères: (ii)(iii)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities
État, province ou région :
Kingdom of Bahrain
Coordonnées N26 13 59, E50 34 44
Ref.: 6354

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Les noms des biens figurent dans la langue dans laquelle les États parties les ont soumis.


Manama is located at the northern coast of the main island of the Kingdom of Bahrain, a small island state located in the center of the Arabian Gulf. As a result of its strategically good location Bahrain has always been an international maritime trade and multicultural hub. Since ancient times the main harbor is located at Bahrain's northern coast; previously in Qal'at al-Bahrain: Ancient Harbor and Capital of Dilmun, a World Heritage Site, and since the 19th century, in Manama. At that time Manama developed as part of a network of settlements which connected the Arabian Gulf to trade routes extending from the Mediterranean and the Red Sea to South East Asia. Towards the end of the 19th century Manama was one of the most important trade hubs in the region. Merchants were the most influential people in town and contributed tremendously to its urban development including the establishment of various places of worship. With the creation of the first municipal government in the region in 1919, a new phase of modernization began and was further accelerated in 1932, when the first Bahraini oil reserves were discovered and exploited, the first one on the Arabian side of the Gulf.

The property comprises a variety of attributes that carry its potential Outstanding Universal Value including the souq area, merchant houses, shops, as well as public buildings like the customs house, the Bab al-Bahrain or the old court. Many edifices show foreign influences, such as the wooden porch that can be found on many residential buildings which originates in Persia, or the various buildings of the modern era that exhibit characteristics of British colonial architecture. Not least because of its long history as a trade hub, Manama became a melting pot of different cultures and a place of peaceful religious coexistence. The latter is represented by over 120 places of worship and a variety of religious festivals celebrated in the streets of Manama.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionnelle

In the early 19th century Manama developed as part of an international trade network. Soon it gained more importance and in the second half of the 19th century Manama became a fully-fledged maritime trade town and a key hub of this network under the influence of the increasing prosperity deriving from the pearl boom and of the British informal empire. The development of the harbor, markets, neighborhoods and religious institutions accelerated. By 1904, the town hosted more than 450 shops distributed in various souqs. Attracted by plentiful economic opportunities, immigrants flooded into Manama in order to establish businesses or to make a living as laborers. The names of the various souqs often indicate the origin of the appurtenant merchants, Souq al-Ajam, for instance, was the market of Persian food dealers, or Souq al-Yahud, which accommodated the financial centers of the Jewish community. Manama was of utmost importance to the region. Already at the turn of the century, its economy was dominated by transit trade, which alone constituted about one-third of the total volume of imports. The town's political and commercial role was even more consolidated after World War I when a new phase of British imperial expansion established Manama as the lynchpin of British influence in the Gulf.

The merchants of Manama played a vital role in the processes of urbanization. They financed the development of residential areas and the provision of services for the population, including the establishment of religious buildings, which were also symbols of mercantile power and wealth. Some neighborhoods carry the names of their family or tribe, such as Al-Fadhel or AI-Kanoo. With the establishment of the first municipal government in the region in 1919, several merchant notables reinforced their status and became members of the council.

In the 1920s and early 1930s, Manama became the center of a modernizing state. Urban development and urban life in Manama mirrored the broader social and political transformations of the coastal regions in other Gulf countries. In fact, Manama was the pioneer of the region and the place were important historical events and processes occurred first. With the discovery of oil in 1932 Manama flourished even more and entered a new phase of modernization. By the 1950s Manama's warehouses had become the largest in the Gulf, serving Bahrain as well as the needs of oil industry and other societies across the region. Manama became the hub of a modern service economy and rose to prominence as the central place of oil modernity in the Gulf. As such, it is the earliest and best example of oil-related urban developments in the region, an area that like no other in the world is associated with oil. Numerous new buildings were constructed to cater for the city's expanding representative functions and its growing community. The Bab al-Bahrain, the customs house and the old court are only a few examples of the new style of architecture that exhibit a unique mélange of British colonial public architecture and traditional local features, which were developed at that time. The modern architecture of Manama can also be translated as a promise of global modernity, reassuring Bahrainis and its visitors that a modern state had arrived.

The mixed ethnic and religious composition of Manama's urban population reflects the long history of immigration associated with trade and is also displayed in the topography of the town. The residential areas of Manama developed primarily as immigration units with special neighborhoods for Indians, Persians, Baluchi, Najdi, and other groups. The architecture Of Manama reflects the heterogeneous character of its residents. Numerous of the facades and exterior decorations of the merchant houses, for instance, show more openness to the outside  world and a strong Persian influence compared to the more common introverted courtyard houses that can be found in the rest of the country.

Religion was undoubtedly a very important dimension in the urban development of Manama. The residences of merchants and tribal leaders played a crucial role for the urban population. While Sunni community life evolved around majlises, reception rooms located in their mansions, Shi'i merchants sponsored Ashura and hosted in their houses or in specialized buildings the congregations, known as matams, which celebrate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Matams and the outdoor celebration of Ashura, which includes ceremonial processions and theatrical presentations, also fostered new uses of urban spaces and annually transform the streets of Manama into spaces of devotion.

While Islam is the primary religion in the country, a potpourri of religious beliefs characterizes Manama. Since centuries Manama has a considerable and ever growing Indian community. The ruler of Bahrain acknowledged that already 200 years ago and consequently allocated space for a Hindu Temple in the center of Manama souq. Today, the Sri Krishna Temple is the biggest and most important temple for Hindu believers in the country and the temple and its surrounding streets setting for various Hindu celebrations. Manama is also home to a small but significant group of Jewish believers. In the late 19th century Bahrain noted a huge influx of Iraqi, Iranian and Indian Jews whose entrepreneurial skills soon made them an irreplaceable component of Manama's financial sector and society. The Souq al-Yahud was not only their workspace but also the place of their synagogue. Though the first few British arrived in the 19th century, the Christian community only gained significance after the discovery of oil when large numbers of experts and workers arrived to the island whose skills were needed in setting up and running the newly established refinery. This relatively late arrival is also reflected in the location of the three main churches, which can be found just south of Manama's dense urban fabric.

Criterion (ii): The architecture of Manama exhibits an important interchange of foreign influences which have prompted a typical response in the local style. Carved plaster works and pierced gypsum screen often display Indian-influenced patterns. The merchant houses with wooden porches, locally called aghassi, present a unique mélange of Bahraini courtyard house architecture and Southern Persian extroverted architectural designs. These houses are exceptional in the Arabian side of the Gulf and proof Manama's strong position as a trade hub for the region. Moreover, the modern architecture of Manama displays a remarkable interchange of influences from modernist lines of British colonial public architecture and traditional local features in the unique context of a modernizing Gulf state, which was boosted by the discovery of oil.

Criterion (iii): Manama is the physical embodiment of the manifold historical processes in the region during the last 150 years. Located in the center of the Gulf, the city developed as a trade hub that was connected to an international maritime trade network connecting the Arabian Gulf with the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. The town flourished under the influence of the pearling trade and the British informal empire, which provided the necessary political conditions for the urban economy to prosper. The discovery of oil in 1932 accelerated urban development in Manama and Bahrain became the central place of oil modernity in the Gulf. The multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural community of Manama is a living testimony to these processes and is also manifested in the more than 120 places of worship representing four different religions and even more sects. The density of places of worship in a limited space is extraordinary.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

The property expresses the various historical processes of Manama in the context of trade. Each part of the history is reflected by a variety of edifices that exhibit different levels of conservation. Several buildings already underwent or are currently undergoing conservation works according to highest international standards and have thus a high level of authenticity. Others are still in need of conservation measures. Manama is a living city and changes are immanent. Numerous buildings have been destroyed in the course of time but that also made space for new historical layers. In the first half of the 20th century, for instance, older structures gave way for the new modern buildings that are now considered of utmost value and part of the features that carry the potential Outstanding Universal Value of the site proposed. Though the harbor has been shifted towards the north, the Bab al-Bahrain continues to be the entrance to the old city and market area. The souq remains the biggest and most important market in the country, yet the selections of goods changed to fit recent demands. The city's development is also visible in the places of worship that are regularly modernized. The network of roads and alleyways remained widely intact and reflects the natural growth of the city, the souq and surrounding areas being the heart from were the city slowly extended in all directions. The Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (BACA) is actively promoting the diversity and multiculturalism of the town with various projects, the `Little India' being the latest one. The project involved restoration and conservation works and the creation of a small public place, a meeting point of cultures.

The majority of property components that have been identified as significant to this nomination are in private ownership. Yet, a considerable number is publicly owned, especially those buildings that always had public or representative functions, like the Bab al-Bahrain. Other edifices of great heritage value have been acquired throughout the last years in order to save them from demolition. The National Heritage Register already comprises 31 houses in Manama and is continuously amended. But even those houses that are not yet officially registered as national heritage sites are protected. Decree Law No (11) of 1995 Concerning the Protection of Antiquities considers any building older than 50 years as of heritage value. Article 7 and 8 clearly state that any development works in or surrounding a heritage site needs the approval of BACA. Therefore, BACA put in place special mechanisms to monitor the preservation of heritage sites. BACA established a specialized permits department whose only task it is to evaluate development requests from private owners. The Central Planning Office, associated with the Ministry of Works, Municipalities Affairs and Urban Planning, implemented an electronic system in 2013 that informs and seeks approval from all concerned stakeholders about proposed infrastructural and public development projects. Thus, BACA can oppose projects that potentially endanger heritage sites.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

Manama reflects the developments and transformation of the coastal regions in the Gulf throughout the last 150 years and can hence be compared to other relevant trade towns, such as Kuwait, Bushehr, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, or Ajman. Yet, Manama was the lynchpin of the British informal empire in the Gulf at the time, which consolidated its position as most important trade hub of the region. Moreover, important political and social developments took place first in Manama before they occurred in the wider region. The establishment of the first municipal government and the discovery of oil are probably the best and most important examples. That also applies to various physical attributes, the first examples of modern architecture, for instance, date to the 1920s in Bahrain. In contrast, modern buildings in other places such as Kuwait started to appear only in the 1950s.

In regards of Manama as a multicultural and multi-religious town, Manama needs to be compared to other cultural melting pots like Mumbai, Singapore, or Calcutta. While these cities present an even higher density of religious groups and associated places of worships than Manama, the context in Bahrain is unique. There is no other majority-Muslim city that presents the same diversity of religions and cultures in a limited space that peacefully coexist and where each group can express their traditions publicly without disturbances. Other towns, for instance Cairo, Aden, Karachi, or Djibouti used to have similar characteristics but were not able to transfer them into the present.