Occupying the northeastern corner of the main island of the Bahrain archipelago, Manama is the capital, seat of government and commercial heart of the country. Based on oil wealth, the city has doubled in size since 1970.
There are references to Manama in Islamic manuscripts from the mid-fourteenth century. In 1521 it came under the rule of the Portuguese, exploring new trading routes in the Gulf region, before falling to the Persians in 1603. Subsequent Persian-Arab rivalry resulted eventually in Arab ascendancy in 1783 under Shaikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, whose dynasty still holds power in Bahrain today. From 1861 Bahrain became a British protectorate in all but name. Following the discovery of oil in 1932 Manama began to expand, becoming a free port in 1958. In 1971, it became the capital of the newly independent Bahrain.
Traditional industries such as pearl fishing and boat building continue, but Manama is now a major oil centre, as well as the financial and commercial hub of the Gulf region. The northern edge of the city has undergone extensive redevelopment on reclaimed land, although many areas inland have changed little in the last 50 years. Manama is encircled by a ring of highways, linking it to the interior and to the causeways to Muharraq Island, the Sitra region and Saudi Arabia. Central Manama is about 10 km west of Bahrain International Airport.
Places of Interest
The chief cultural attractions are the National Museum, Al Fateh Islamic Centre and Grand Mosque, the Heritage Centre and Bait Al Qur’an. Other places of interest include the colourful Souk (marketplace), entry to which is guarded by a prominent building known as Bab Al Bahrain (literally ‘Gateway to Bahrain’), which houses the Directorate of Tourism and Archaeology.