BAHREIN ISLANDS, a group of islands situated about 20 m. east of the coast of El Hasa, in the Persian Gulf, a little to the south of the port of El Katif, which, if rightly identified with the ancient Gerrha, has been celebrated throughout history as the mart of Indian trade, the starting-point of caravans across Arabia. The largest of the group is called Bahrein. It is about 27 m. long from north to south and about 10 wide - a low flat space of sandy waste with cultivated oases and palm groves of great luxuriance and beauty. The rocky hill of Jebel Dukhan (the "mountain of the mist") rises in the midst of it to a height of 400 ft. The rest of the group are of coral formation. The next island in size to Bahrein is Moharek, curved in shape, and about 5 m. long by m. in breadth. It lies 1 m. to the north of Bahrein. Sitrah (4 m. long) Nebbi, Saleh, Sayeh, Khasifeh and Arad ( m. long) complete the group. Of these minor islands Arad alone retains its classical name.
The climate is mild, but humid, and rather unhealthy. The soil is for the most part fertile, and produces rice, pot herbs and fruits, of which the citrons are especially good. Water is abundant. Fish of all kinds abound off the coast, and are very cheap in the markets. The inhabitants are a mixed race of Arab, Omanite and Persian blood, slender and small in their physical appearance; they possess great activity and intelligence, and are known in all the ports of the Persian Gulf for their commercial and industrial ability.
The sea around the Bahrein islands is shallow, so shallow as to admit only of the approach of native craft, and the harbour is closely shut in by reefs. There is very little doubt that it was from these islands that the Puni, or Phoenicians, emigrated northwards to the Mediterranean. Bahrein has always been the centre of the pearl fishing industry of the Persian Gulf. There are about 400 boats now employed in the pearl fisheries, each of them paying a tax to the Sheik. The pearl export from Linja is valued at about £30,000 to £35,000 per annum.
The capital town of Bahrein is Manameh, a long, straggling, narrow town of about 8000 inhabitants, chiefly of the Wahabi sect. Manameh is adjacent to the most northern point of the island, and looks across the narrow strait to Moharek.
Fish and sea-weed form the staple food of the islanders. The water-supply of Moharek is probably unique. It is derived from springs which burst through the beds below sea-level with such force as to retain their freshness in the midst of the surrounding salt water. Scattered through the islands are some fifty villages, each possessing its own date groves and cultivation, forming features in the landscape of great fertility and beauty. Most of these villages are walled in for protection.
The Portuguese obtained possession of the islands in 1507, but were driven from their settlements in that quarter by Shah Abbas in 1622. The islands afterwards became an object of contention between the Persians and Arabs, and at last the Arabian tribe of the Athubis made themselves masters of them in 1784.
The present Sheik of Bahrein (who lives chiefly at Moharek) is of the family of El Kalifa. This ruling race was driven from the mainland (where they held great possessions) by the Turks about 1850. In the year 1867 the Persians threatened Bahrein, and in 1875 the Turks laid their hands on it. British interference in both cases was successful in maintaining the integrity of Arab rule, and the Bahrein islands are now under British protection.
To the south-west of the picturesque belts of palm trees which stretch inland from the northern coast of Bahrein, is a wide space of open sandy plain filled with gigantic tumuli or earth mounds, of which the outer layers of gravel and clay have been hardened by the weather action of centuries to the consistency of conglomerate. Within these mounds are two-chambered sepulchres, built of huge slabs of limestone, several of which have been opened and examined by Durand, Bent and others, and found to contain relics of undoubted Phoenician design. Scattered here and there throughout the islands are isolated mounds, or smaller groups, all of which are of the same appearance, and probably of similar origin.
(T. H. H.*)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)