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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
World's your oyster

BAHRAIN is set to splash out millions of dinars to re-establish its prominence as the world's 'island of pearls'.

Plans are in place to welcome thousands of visitors to its shores in a way reminiscent to the historic times it once enticed travellers and traders by the brilliance of its gems.

The Sector for Culture and National Heritage, which comes under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture and Information, has unveiled a BD15 million pearl plan to tell the world the story of Bahrain's rich pearling legacy.

The completed project will be submitted to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in February and the Pearl Pathway will be put forward to be recognised as a 'World Heritage Site'. The verdict on its nomination will be made in the summer of 2011.

Dr Britta Rudolff, counsellor for Heritage and UNESCO Affairs at the Ministry of Culture and Information, is the co-ordinator, accompanied by 12 permanent project members as well as a team of consultants, architects, archeologists, ministry officials as well as the families of the pearling community that once thrived on the island.

The kingdom already boasts one recognised world heritage landmark at Qal'at Al Bahrain in the Seef district which features the Bahrain Fort and a museum.

Dr Rudolff said: 'After it became a world heritage site in 2007, we were thinking of another site that would really reflect the identity of Bahrain. We chose pearling, with its rich history and tradition in Bahrain, as it was something that everybody could relate to.'

The project, entitled 'Pearling - Testimony of an Island Economy' will consist of three oyster beds and a pathway that begins at a natural seashore and takes in 17 historic houses in South Muharraq to depict, describe and recreate a lifestyle that was once the bread-and-butter of the island's economy before the discovery of oil.

Dr Rudolff said: 'We have identified the location and contacted the owners of properties.

'Some agreements have been signed and others are still under negotiation. Most of our energy is concentrated now on preparing a substantial and detailed document for UNESCO.'

AN archaeological excavation is on-going in Muharraq in the souq area to find further evidence of early pearling in the kingdom.

Several restoration teams from a variety of countries including Germany, France and Jordan will be arriving in the next few months to help analyse the historic relevance of the area and to work alongside Bahraini restoration companies and architects.

Dr Rudolff said: 'We believe it's a project that is very close to our heart so most of the people working on the project are based in Bahrain or are Bahraini.'

The project team is co-ordinating with 12 different ministries including the Ministry of Works which is assisting with road works along the pathway.

The Ministry of Interiors is helping with the seashore that falls on the coast guard territory, the Public Commission for the Protection of Wildlife, Marine and Environment is involved with the oyster beds, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs is responsible for the mosques along the pathway and the Ministry of Municipalities and Agriculture Affairs is developing zoning restrictions and architectural guidelines for the area.

The Bahrain Tourism Authority is assisting in preparing the visitor plan and presenting the project as an attraction for tourists while involving the local population.

And, the Economic Development Board is aiming to help integrate the project into Bahrain's national strategy and create new economical opportunities through it.

'One of the central aims for the project is also to generate revenue for the local population of Muharraq and make sure they benefit from this project,' said Dr Rudolff.

Dr Britta said: 'In terms of marketing, co-operating with the Bahrain Tourism Authority, we are trying to ensure natural pearls become internationally desirable again - especially in modern attractive jewellery.

'We are trying to involve renowned jewellers to see if they are interested in making a new range of collections that is based on Bahraini natural pearls.

'We have contacted some famous companies that have purchased Bahraini pearls in the past, such as Cartier.'

The project is being held under the patronage of His Majesty King Hamad and the official head is Shaikha Mai Al Khalifa, Minister of Information and Culture.

Diving into pearling history

THE Pearl Pathway will cover around 3.22km in South Muharraq and will feature a natural shoreline and buildings where individuals of the pearling community lived, worked and prospered over a period of 5,000 years including residences, mosques, souqs, amaras or warehouses and Majlis - the places for special gatherings.

It will reveal the living conditions and roles of various individuals in the pearling hierarchy including the nukhida or vessel captain, the pearl divers, the men who delivered sweet water and food to the dhows out at sea, timber merchants and the medicine men.

The merchants who played such a prominent part during the pearling era will also be highlighted. There were two types - one was the ground merchant who sold his goods to traders directly and the second was the tawawish, the sea merchants or the 'brokers' of pearls who bought the gems directly from the dhow captains.

They then sold their pearls to the ground merchants or directly exported them, most specifically to Mumbai, India, which was the strongest pearl market at the time.

Of the many restoration works covers Fakhro House which will be converted to a modern art gallery as well as a majlis and include a new community centre.

Nearby Murad House which will be converted into a traditional guest house, which is a unique aspect of the project. Dr Rudolff said: 'It will have 14 guest rooms and people can stay overnight to get the feel of living in a real Bahraini house.'

Well-known Bahraini pearling merchant's property Syedi Majlis will become a Museum of Pearling exhibiting two themes - one the life of the ground merchants and the other highlighting the life history of the pearls and the stunning jewellery items they became. The family will continue to live in a private property nearby.

The Fakhro Amarat property will be restored and host a new multi-media visitor centre featuring an artifact and video-audio documentation of the pearling era.

A special section will be dedicated to children for hands-on pearling experience and information. The two amaras were used as warehouses in the past and sold mainly food items and dhow building equipment.

The centre will also feature a documental archive with a comprehensive collection of records on pearls for researchers and students studying the subject.

Dr Rudolff said: 'We are also planning a specialised library of pearls centred in Bahrain for those interested in carrying out research or wishing to write about the industry's history.'

The project also includes three oyster beds in the northern territorial waters of Bahrain, namely Hayr Bu-Lthama, Hayr Bu am'amah and Hayr Shtayyah.

The closest oyster bed is 25km from the beach and will be used to promote underwater tourism once the project is complete.

Dr Rudolff explained that once the project is complete, boat tourism will also be promoted under two categories.

She said: 'For people who can dive, scuba diving will be available where they can explore the underwater on their own. For those who cannot, the boat will be equipped with an underwater camera and they can view the underwater sights at that very location on a screen.'

In order to link the oyster beds to the houses, Dr Rudolff's team had to locate a traditional, natural beach area to meet Unesco requirements.

Dr Rudolff said: 'We had a hard time identifying a beach that was really authentic until we finally found a natural one in Muharraq which was located on a coastguard base.

'We negotiated with the Ministry of Interiors to use it and will be building a wall that separates it from the coastguard to make it publically accessible at any time while not threatening security.'

In order to protect these three beds, the ministry is also preparing a well-developed conservation programme to ensure the protection of the pearls as a natural resource.

In earlier days the beach which connected the oyster beds to the main land was used as a location for special festivals in which the women folk of the pearling community and their children celebrated as the dhows left and returned to the shore. Dr Rudolff said: 'The pearl diving season was a very remarkable time. It lasted about four months and ten days during which the entire male population of Muharraq was out in sea which meant the women lived amongst themselves until the men returned home.

'The lives of the women changed dramatically as they had to carry out functions which the men would normally have undertaken and manage on their own.'

The grand festivals were called Rakbah on the day they left to sea and Quffal on the day they returned.

When the first dhows were seen on the horizons, the pearling crews' families would gather on the beach to welcome their fathers, brothers and husbands home.

Dr Rudolff explained: 'It was a dramatic event as not all of them survived the seas - there was a lot of death on board. The women would watch out to be assured that their loved ones were safe.

'There was a code. Every boat that lost men during the diving season would raise a black flag. The first thing the women would try to do is check for the boat their family members were on to see if there was a black flag.

'If there wasn't one, then they would celebrate immediately before even the boat arrived, but if there was a black flag then they would anxiously wait to see who would, or would not, come back.'

The ministry is planning to re-introduce the festivals to provide an insight into how people lived and thrived during the period.

Dr Rudolff said: 'The idea of the pathway will be to tell the story of the social community during the pearling era - house per house a new story could be introduced and offer the visitor a new perspective on the industry.

'Aside from the positive aspects, it will also show the difficulties of a diver, who often faced financial troubles as well as physical challenges.

'It's not always a beautiful story ... and we feel it is important to show all aspects of life at this time.'

PROFILE:_Dr Rudolff

Dr Britta Rudolff, a German, came to the island in 2005 after meeting Shaikha Mai at a UNESCO conference in South Africa.

She had worked with UNESCO, the UN and an Italian cultural organisation called Iccrom as well as teaching at universities in Germany and Canada and working in the Ministry of Culture in Syria.

Dr Rudolff, completed her degree in Conservation of Culture Property, post graduation in World Heritage Management and earned her PhD in Cultural Geography.

Dr Rudolff, 36, lives in Muharraq.

1,581 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
UN bid to save pearling legacy
Posted on » Saturday, February 06, 2010

A PROPOSAL to put Bahrain's pearl diving traditions on the World Heritage List has been officially submitted.

It was lodged with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), in Paris, by representatives from the Culture and Information Ministry.

If successful, Bahrain's pearling industry - once the driving force behind the country's economy - will officially get Unesco World Heritage listing.

The proposal, submitted by representatives of the ministry's Culture and National Heritage Sector, includes a programme to protect and restore historic buildings connected to the pearl trade and highlight different elements of the pearling economy.

Focused on Muharraq, Bahrain's pearling capital, a 3.22km pathway would link historic buildings with the natural shoreline at Bu Mahir fort - in the south of Muharraq - telling the story of the pearl industry.

The pathway would also lead through Suq Al Qaysariya, which is to be preserved as a cultural heritage attraction.

In addition, three oyster beds would be safeguarded and made accessible by boat.

The nomination will now be reviewed by Unesco in the next 18 months and considered for World Heritage listing during the Unesco conference in Bahrain in the summer of next year.

Experts have spent the past three years finalising the project and are ready to start restoration work, according to a statement by the ministry.

It said international experts would help restore historic pearling buildings in Muharraq, while excavations at Amarat Fakhro (an old pearling storehouse) and the historic fort of Bu Mahir would be led by archaeologists from the British Oxford Brookes University.

For more information about the pearling project, e-mail [email protected].
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