Nestled in the heart of the Persian Gulf is the small island nation of Bahrain, officially known as the Kingdom of Bahrain. For a place of its size, Bahrain boasts a rich history and an intriguing culture. Here are some interesting facts about Bahrain.
Facts about Bahrain
1. Bahrain is the third-smallest country in Asia and one of the smallest countries in the world.
Bahrain has a total area of 778 km² (300 sq mi), which makes it 3.5 times the size of Washington D.C. Although Bahrain was originally an archipelago of 33 islands, extensive land reclamation projects have increased the number of islands to 84. Land reclamation in Bahrain has increased the area by 112 km².
In Asia, only Maldives and Singapore are smaller than Bahrain in terms of size. Bahrain is also the smallest sovereign state in the Middle East
2. Bahrain is pretty flat.
Most of Bahrain’s terrain is low-lying and barren desert. The highest natural point in Bahrain is the Mountain of Smoke (Jabal ad Dukhan), a small hill that rises to an elevation of 134 m (440 ft) above sea level.
3. The name Bahrain means “the two seas”.
One of the interesting facts about Bahrain is that the country gets its name from the Arabic word “al-Bahrayn” which loosely translates to “the two seas.”
4. Bahrain was one of the first places to adopt Islam.
Bahrain is considered to be one of the lands that welcomed the spread of Islam at an early date. Bahrain’s pre-Islamic population consisted of Christian Arabs, Zoroastrians, Aramaic-speaking pastoralists, and Jews.
It is speculated that Bahrain may have adopted Islam as early as 628 AD (four years prior to the death of Prophet Muhammad). The country is home to the Al-Khamis Mosque, which dates to the late-7th century and is one of the oldest and most important mosques in the world. Islam is the state religion of Bahrain and most Bahraini citizens are Muslim.
5. Bahrain is one of the four Shia majority countries.
One of the lesser-known Bahrain facts is that it is one of only four countries in the world with a Shia majority population. It is estimated that the Shia community makes up approximately 55–70% of Bahrain’s citizens and the Sunni community 30–45%.
6. Bahrain has been inhabited for millennia.
The area now known as Bahrain was highly sought-after in antiquity due to the country’s strategic location in the Persian Gulf. It has been home to several prominent civilizations such as the Persians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians.
Most notably, Bahrain was home to the Dilmun civilization, one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Very little is known about this arcane civilization, except that it was an important trading center that existed at the same time as the Sumerian civilization.
7. A person from Bahrain is called a Bahraini.
Bahraini people are ethnically diverse. The majority of Bahrainis are Arab, and a relevant minority are of Persian origin. Arab Shiites, the Baharna, consider themselves the original inhabitants of Bahrain and make up over 90% of Bahrain’s Shia community. The Ajam are the Persian Shiites who make up the remainder of the nation’s Shia community.
The Huwala are Sunni Muslims from Iran who immigrated to Bahrain, make up the majority of Bahrain’s Sunnis. There’s also a small but highly influential community of Sunni Arabs.
8. Bahrain was once a part of the Portuguese Empire.
Starting from the Age of Discovery, Portuguese sailors began gobbling up territories in Africa and Asia to the source of the lucrative spice trade. The Portuguese seized control of Bahrain in 1521 and Portuguese rule lasted for the next 80 years until they were expelled from the islands by the Safavid Empire of Persia.
9. Bahrain has been ruled by the same family for over 200 years.
Since 1783, Bahrain has been ruled by the Al Khalifa family. In 1783, members of the Al Khalifa family from the Utub tribe conquered Bahrain from their base in Zubara (now Qatar), driving out the Persians. Today, members of the Al Khalifa family occupy major positions in the government, and even the country’s Prime Minister, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, hails from the Al Khalifa family.
The Al Khalifa family are Sunnis while the majority of Bahrain’s population is Shia. To date, the dichotomy between the Sunni rulers and the country’s majority Shia population has underpinned the country’s enduring imbalance in its ongoing religious‐cultural divide.
Bahrain’s Shia majority has long complained of discrimination by the Al Khalifa family in nearly every aspect of life, ranging across religious, social, political, and cultural rights. This has often led to tensions against the Al Khalifa family and the government, the most notable of which was a failed uprising in 2011.
10. Bahrain is a former British Protectorate.
The ruling Al Khalifa family signed a number of treaties with the British in exchange for establishing their legitimacy as the rulers of Bahrain and to help protect their holdings. Over time, these agreements and treaties led to the establishment of Bahrain becoming a protectorate of the British Empire in the 18th century. Bahrain remained under British administration until 1971 when it gained full independence.
11. The capital of Bahrain is Manama.
Situated in the north of Bahrain, Manama is also Bahrain’s economic and cultural capital. Often overshadowed by Dubai and Doha, Manama is a city of glitzy air-conditioned shopping malls, futuristic skyscrapers, and avant-garde art galleries.
12. Bahrain was once the pearl capital of the world.
From the 3rd century BC until the early 20th century, pearling and its associated trades greatly shaped the economy and culture of Bahrain. The nacreous pearls collected in Bahrain were dispatched to India and Europe where they were refined and traded to larger markets.
Bahrain’s pearling industry peaked just before the start of World War I, after which the advent of the cultured pearl industry, wars, the Wall Street crash, and the discovery of oil led to a total collapse of the industry by 1950.
13. The currency of Bahrain is the Bahraini dinar (BHD).
The Bahraini dinar has been the currency of Bahrain since 1965 when it replaced the Gulf rupee. The Bahraini dinar is also the world’s second-highest valued currency unit after the Kuwaiti dinar.
14. Oil was first discovered on the Arabian peninsula in Bahrain.
One of the obscure facts about Bahrain is that it was the first nation on the Arabian Peninsula where oil was discovered. The Bahrain Petroleum Company, a subsidiary of Standard Oil, discovered oil in Bahrain in 1932.
15. Football is the most popular sport in Bahrain.
Sadly, the Bahrain men’s national football team has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup.
16. Bahrain is home to the world’s largest underwater theme park.
How’s this for a fun fact about Bahrain! Encompassing an area of 100,000 m², Dive Bahrain is truly mind-boggling. This eco-friendly theme park features trails for divers, ranging from colorful artificial reefs to underwater sculptures. It even has a 70-meter-long fully submerged decommissioned Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
17. Bahrain recognizes Israel.
In September 2020, Bahrain became the fourth country in the Middle East after Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE to recognize Israel since its founding in 1948.
18. Bahrain’s national flag is one of the most distinctive.
The Bahrain national flag features a white band on the left and a larger red band on the right, with a serrated line of five triangles that divides the two. The current national flag was adopted in 2002.
Red is the traditional color for flags of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf while white is in honor of Bahrain’s treaty with Britain. The five points on the serrated line represent the five pillars of Islam.
19. Bahrain’s primary exports are crude oil and petroleum.
Although Bahrain isn’t endowed with vast amounts of oil and natural gas like its Gulf neighbors, crude oil and petroleum products are the primary exports of Bahrain. Bahrain’s economy is by far the most diverse on the Arabian peninsula. Due to limited reserves of fossil fuels, Bahrain has heavily invested in the banking and tourism sectors since the late 20th century.
20. Bahrain is an electricity hog.
According to the World Bank and the International Energy Agency (IEA), Bahrain is the biggest per-capita consumer of electricity in Asia and the third biggest in the world, after Iceland and Norway.
21. Bahrain staged the first Grand Prix in the Middle East.
In 2004, Bahrain had the distinction of hosting the first Formula One Grand Prix in the Middle East. The race was won by German driver Michael Schumacher for Ferrari.
22. There are no rivers in Bahrain.
Comprised of mostly barren land, Bahrain has little fresh water and is one of the few countries in the world with no rivers. The key water sources in Bahrain are groundwater, desalinated water, and treated wastewater. Desalination provides at least 60% of Bahrain’s freshwater.
23. Bahrain is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Given Bahrain’s rich history, it’s no surprise that there are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. The three sites are the Bahrain Pearling Trail, the Dilmun Burial Mounds, and the Qal’at al-Bahrain fort.
24. Bahrain is called “The Las Vegas of the Middle East.”
One of the most peculiar facts about Bahrain is that it can be described as a strange, liberal anomaly nestled within the heart of one of the most conservative regions on the planet. Worldly vices such as drinking, prostitution, and gambling don’t bode well with Islamic culture. However, nearly anything goes in Bahrain earning the country a reputation as “Sin City.”
Alcohol is legal in Manama and so is the opportunity to mingle with the opposite sex. Bahrain legalized homosexuality in 1976, which is generally tolerated if public displays are kept to a minimum. During weekends, thousands of rich Saudis are known to flock over the 25 km (16 mi) King Fahd Causeway in search of high-end shopping, vibrant nightlife, cheap hotels, fine dining, and other Western pleasures.
While prostitution is technically illegal in Bahrain, it is seldom enforced because of the economic benefits wrought by the sex-tourism industry, largely enabled by affluent patrons from Bahrain’s more “traditional” neighbors. High-class call girls from all over the world travel to Bahrain in hopes of cashing in.
25. Machboos is the national dish of Bahrain.
Machboos is similar to biryani and consists of meat (chicken, mutton, or fish) accompanied over fragrant rice that has been cooked in a well-spiced broth. The rice, meat, and spices are usually accompanied by roasted nuts and raisins.
26. Bahrainis are addicted to coffee.
The country’s natives love coffee (qahwah) and it is Bahrain’s national beverage. Qahwah is usually rather bitter and since it’s flavored with either cardamom or saffron.
27. Bahrain is home to the mysterious Tree of Life.
Bahrain is home to a remarkable Mesquite tree that stands out as one of nature’s great anomalies. Located in central Bahrain, the Tree of Life (Shajarat-al-Hayat)
is over 400 years old and stands alone in the desert without any apparent source of water and other vegetation for miles around. Presumably, the old tree has tapped into an underground groundwater spring somewhere.
The tree’s source of water has remained a mystery and the fact that it has thrived for so long has made it something of a mystical legend in Bahrain. The locals believe that the tree is looked after by Enki, the mythical God of water, and some believe that it is the last vestige from the Garden of Eden.
28. Bahrain takes care of its citizens.
Bahrain provides universal health care and free primary and secondary education to its citizens.
29. Capital punishment is legal in Bahrain.
The laws of Bahrain do not limit the death penalty to the most serious crimes.
30. Bahrain has no personal income tax.
Bahrain is one of the several countries in the world that doesn’t levy a personal income tax. However, citizens pay a small amount into social services for the country.
31. Bahrain Doesn’t Observe Daylight Saving.
Daylight saving has never been observed in Bahrain.
32. Bahrain drives on the right.
Bahrain switched to right-hand traffic in 1967.