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Barbar Temple

Date of Submission: 25/09/2001
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Culture & National Heritage Sector P.O.Box 2199 - Manama
Coordinates: The Barbar Temple situated on the West Coast of Island and to the North of Saar Settlement
Ref.: 1570

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Two tells near the village of Barbar covered the largest temple yet found in Bahrain and a smaller neighbouring temple. The Barbar Temple is actually three temples, one succeeding the other on the same site. The two oldest temples are terraced with a central platform above an outer oval platform, an architectural feature comparable with Sumerian temples. The Barbar Temples, built in the third and second millennia BC, are among the most remarkable architectural survivals of the ancient world and are without parallel in the region. Originally discovered and excavated by the successive Danish Expeditions which explored Bahrain's archaeological sites during the 1950's and 60's, the temple site was re-excavated in 1983 by the Department of Antiquities and Museums. Temple I The earliest temple was built on a rectangular platform approximately 25m long and 16 to 18m wide. It was originally constructed on a bed of clean sand which appears to have been consolidated by a layer of blue clay. This was covered by a second layer of clean sand. At the foundation of Temple I offerings were deposited in the clay core of the temple terrace. They consisted of dozens of clay goblets found in separate groups, each containing seven beakers which were broken and buried within the foundations of the terrace. Else where copper objects were deposited in small heaps or singly. All these things seem to have been made especially as offering. In the south-westem comer of this early temple steps led down to a square-built well. The central terrace was preserved in its full height,2.0 metres, with the remains of trapezoid shrine in the center and adjoining rooms. AR the distinctive cult features present in Temple 2 were already established: the subterranean shrine, the temple well and the oval sacrificial court. Unlike the two later temples constructed above it, this first one was built from local Bahraini stone. Temple II Temple 2 is the best preserved of the three Barbar Temples, with retaining walls and terraces stiff in their full height and the cult places intact. In its first stage the oval terrace revetinent was built in local stone, but after an enlargement it was built in limestone which must have been carried by boat from nearby Jidda island where stone was hewn out by hand and carefully dressed into remarkably neat masonry blocks. The skill with which this task was carried out may be clearly seen in the temple walls and especially around the sacred well. The cult ceremonies that took place in the temple are suggested by the sacrificial court, the altars and the shrines. A double circular altar and an offering table stood in the center of the shrine. To the south were three cult stones shaped like the anchors of the merchant ships, although the central one bore a protruding animal head, like the altars depicted on the seals. A temple treasure lay in the stone frame pit in the north-east comer. The central terrace was crowned by a shrine built of cut stone with stone paving; smaller buildings clustered around it covering the rest of the terrace. The wafls were robbed of most of their stones but the ground plan of the shrine and of the neighbouring building can be discerned. There were no buildings on the outer oval terrace but altars and cult symbols were visible. A plinth with recessed stone cylinder lay to the south and a plinth with three pillars was situated near the north-west wall. A double row of plinths for cult objects lined both sides of the stairs from the upper terrace. On each of these plinths were two square holes lined with bitumen and sheet copper nailed to wood. Here may have stood copper mounted poles with the emblems of gods, so often seen on the stamp seals, or, perhaps, wooden statues. From the central terrace a ceremonial stairway led to the subterranean shrine where water cult ceremonies took place. Halfway down the stair was a portal, and from there the stair was roofed. The rich natural spring which filled the pool probably accounts for the siting of the temple at Barbar. Water poured from a perforated stone jar beside a semicircular stone font at the threshold of a dry chamber near the basin. From the comers of the shrine deep stone built channels led the water to the surrounding fields and gardens. This remarkable underground shrine is interpreted as a symbolic abzu the abode of Enki, the god of wisdom and of all freshwater. The abzu was believed to be the abyss or freshwater ocean upon which the whole world rests. Such temple abzus are mentioned in cuneiform texts in Mesopotamia. East of the temple lay an oval sacrificial court connected with a central temple platform by a paved ramp and a staircase. The floor of the court was covered with ashes and the bones of cattle and sheep, presumably sacrificed animals. Temple III In use until the early centuries of the second millennium, was larger than its predecessors. Two circular offering tables of finely cut stone with a low altar between them still stand in the middle of the courtyard. Note the three standing stone blocks pierced with a round hold. It is thought that these were tethering points for the sacrificial animals. To give you some idea of size, the third temple's terrace was probably about 30 metres square.