Magazine article The Middle East

Bahrain, a Cultural Hub in the Middle East

Magazine article The Middle East

Bahrain, a Cultural Hub in the Middle East

Article excerpt

BAHRAIN IS AN Arabic word meaning 'two seas', referring to the island's two sources of water--sweet springs and salty sea water. The island was initially famous for its ancient pearl industry: the first record of pearl diving in history was of it taking place in Bahrain, when the ancient Mesopotamian demigod Gilgamesh visited the island in 3750BC.

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Although the pearl-collection industry collapsed with the advent of the cultured pearl and the discovery of oil, many of its characteristic features and practices survive. Pearling, and its close cultural relationship with the sea, shaped the economic and cultural identity of Bahrain's island society. The discovery of oil in the 1930s enabled the creation of an attractive and modern infrastructure, an elegant skyline, luxury hotels, a bustling international airport, excellent roads and telecommunications, and a thriving port. With minimal oil reserves, Bahrain has been forced to work at maintaining a diverse economy, a goal it has achieved with considerable success.

Currently, Bahrain is probably best known for its prestigious flagship attraction, the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), known as the home of motor sports in the Middle East and the annual Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix. In addition to hosting the V8 Supercars Desert 400 and the Formula One event, BIC is also home to the only HUMMER Driving Academy outside the United States.

There are currently plans afoot to spend more than $100m in a bid to position Manama as the culture capital of the Gulf and attract more tourists from the Middle East region and beyond, according to Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, the kingdom's Minister of Culture and Information.

Among other initiatives, Sheika Mai has plans to promote the Bahrain National Theatre as a vehicle for educating local people and overseas visitors about Bahrain's traditions, culture and heritage. …

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