Quick trip? How to spend a history-filled 24 hours in Bahrain

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This nation is stuffed full of surprising history and awe-inspiring natural sites. (Photo courtesy: Tharik Hussein)
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Bahrain’s oldest Islamic archaeological site, the Khamis Mosque
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Bahrain’s oldest Islamic archaeological site, the Khamis Mosque.
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Bahrain’s most famous cultural center is the Beit Al-Qur’an.
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Do not be sad if the 32-meter-high lush green mystery leaves you baffled.
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Updated 12 September 2017
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Quick trip? How to spend a history-filled 24 hours in Bahrain

MANAMA: The Kingdom of Bahrain is a tiny nation with a big history. This is a country that was once ruled by a 12-year-old and a place where, in antiquity, the social elite spoke Greek and practiced Olympian sports. Bahrain was where traders used to come from far and wide in search of the world’s finest pearls, however, despite this rich and fascinating history, Bahrain has become something of a touristic backwater in recent times.
Most travelers only pass through for business or find themselves here in transit, but what can you do in a day in Bahrain? Here is how to make the most of 24 hours in the Middle East’s smallest country.
Museum morning
The best way to explore this eminently drivable little island is by car, so start off by hiring one at the airport. Not only will this allow you to pack in so much more, but taxis are not cheap and public transport is not reliable.
From the airport, your first stop is a mere 10-minute drive. Bahrain’s most famous cultural center is the Beit Al-Qur’an, or the “House of the Qur’an,” which holds the finest collection of Qur’anic manuscripts on public display anywhere in the Arabian Peninsula. Housed in an uber-modern building that integrates classical Islamic design, the museum is split into three sections, the most impressive of which has to be the Makka Hall, where Qur’an segments on parchment and animal skins date all the way back to the time of the prophet. There are also beautifully-illuminated, unusual Qur’ans from across the globe in the collection. However, nothing quite tops the grain of rice onto which verses of the Qur’an have been inscribed.
All that culture is going to leave you hungry. Fortunately, you only need to venture a few streets west to find Chtaura inside Moda Mall. Chtaura’s motto is “when you’re here, you’re home and if you love simple Middle Eastern food in a cool, quirky space than you will feel very much at home at Chtaura. Order the delicious foul and some zaatar bread — baked in a huge clay oven — and wash it all down with a glass of milky karak tea.
Archaeological afternoon
Start off in the southwest of Manama at a place many believe is Bahrain’s oldest Islamic archaeological site, the Khamis Mosque. Sitting on Sheikh Salman Highway, the mosque is easily spotted due to its twin minarets, which peer over the walled enclosure. The Khamis Mosque’s foundations are believed to date as far back as 692 AD — Islam came to Bahrain in 628 AD — although hard archaeological evidence to support this is yet to surface. The impressive ruins you will visit include the remnants of a prayer hall and the two minarets — all of these structures date from much later periods. Be sure to climb one of them for a great view of the site. Recently renovated, both minarets were built during the Uyunid and Usfurid dynasties, who ruled Bahrain between the 11th and 14th centuries.
From the classical, you will jump to the more traditionally Bahraini as you make your way south to the Riffa region. Here, climb the impressive Riffa Fort, which is strategically positioned on a hillock. From there, you can overlook the Hunayniyah Valley and imagine what it must have felt like to stand there knowing what lay in front of you was yours. Riffa Fort was once the seat of the country’s rulers. Built after the 17th century in a wonderfully-harmonious style, the sand-colored walls of this excellent Bahraini citadel appear to have risen from the very desert that once surrounded it.
Enchanting evening
With the day’s oppressive heat behind you, it is time to venture out to the desert in search of a truly mystical experience. Taking the King Hamad Highway south, look for directions to the “Tree of Life.” There is no proper road leading to this enigmatic monument, such is the remoteness of its location. But you will find it and when you do, you will stand in awe wondering how this miracle of nature has survived more than 400 years in the harshest of deserts, where temperatures regularly exceed 110 degrees fahrenheit, with no obvious water source. Do not be sad if the 32-meter-high lush green mystery leaves you baffled — some of Bahrain’s greatest minds are still scratching their heads too.
Finally, as you head back to the airport you will pass the only place one should end an evening in Bahrain — the majestic Al-Fateh Grand Mosque. Make sure you arrive before sunset, so you can close your eyes and listen as the air begins to fill with the sound of 100 muezzins and then open them so you can witness the impressive lights on Bahrain’s largest mosque coming on, one by one. Then walk inside to admire the world’s largest fiber-glass dome, which is surrounded by beautiful cuboid Kufic calligraphy. Finally, take a walk out into the cool, Andalusian-inspired inner courtyard, ringed by a forest of slim marble pillars. Sit here and rest your weary feet before looking up to admire the starry desert sky above. This truly is the only place to end 24 hours in Bahrain.


World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Updated 23 June 2018
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World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Moscow

Both Tunisia and Iran are based in the vibrant 800-year-old Russian capital, renowned for its golden domes and stunning orthodox architecture. It is home to the famous Russian ballet and a wealth of art, culture and iconic scenery, including the breathtaking Red Square. A truly multicultural capital, Moscow is home to a sizeable Muslim community, which first began to settle here around the time of the Golden Horde. If you want to explore some of the capital’s Islamic heritage, visit the historic Muslim area, Zamoskvorechie, and head for the ‘Historical Mosque,’ built in 1823 by Muslim tatars. Reopened in 1993 after a lengthy closure under communism, the mosque has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Along with the 10k-capacity Moscow Cathedral Mosque (pictured), it is the capital’s most significant Muslim building.
Halal Food: You’ll find plenty on offer, from highly rated restaurants including Mr. Livanets (Lebanese), Dyushes (Azerbaijani), and Gandhara (Asian) to halal food carts.
Mosque: The Moscow Cathedral Mosque on Pereulok Vypolzov.
Qibla: South.

Saint Petersburg

Saudi Arabia’s national team will be based in this bastion of Russian imperialism, known as the Russian ‘Venice’ for its stunning network of canals, neo-Renaissance architecture and its plethora of culture, arts and all things splendid. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of museums, galleries, open promenades and the finest dining in the northern hemisphere — talking of which, sun lovers will be delighted to know that during the World Cup the sun will barely dip below the horizon. Muslim visitors should not miss the St. Petersburg Mosque’s sumptuous Central Asian architecture and mesmeric blue tiles (pictured) — a design inspired by Tamerlane’s tomb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Halal Food: Limited, in comparison to Moscow, but both Eastern European restaurant Navruz and Oh! Mumbai (Indian) have received generally positive online reviews.
Mosque: St. Petersburg Mosque on Kronverkskiy Prospekt.
Qibla: South-east.

Grozny

Egypt’s ‘Pharaohs’ should feel right at home in the Chechen capital, which is home to a huge Muslim population (its coat of arms features a mosque), making it one of the most halal-friendly destinations on our list. The mosque in question is the city’s flagship monument and main tourist attraction, the Ottoman-style Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. Modelled on Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Mosque and sited in a serene location on the west bank of the Sunzha River, it is part of an ‘Islamic’ complex also housing the Russian Islamic University, Kunta Hajji, and is the spiritual headquarters for the Muslims of the Chechen Republic. Much of Grozny is still being rebuilt after being virtually destroyed in two wars with Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, much of it through investment from the UAE.
Halal Food: Chechnya is majority-Muslim, so you’ll be spoiled for choice, from fast-food chain Ilis to high-end restaurants in five-star hotels.
Mosque: Akhmad Kadyrov on Prospekt Putina.
Qibla: South-west.

Voronezh

Morocco are based in quiet (at least until the tournament starts), picturesque Voronezh. The city is littered with lush green spaces and stunning churches. It’s home to a large orthodox Christian community, as well as small Jewish and still-smaller Muslim ones. The city’s beautiful 114-year-old synagogue on Ulitsa Svobody is a popular tourist attraction. Those looking for more ‘familiar’ heritage should head to the Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts on Revolyutsii Avenue, home to an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian works of art on stone and sarcophagi.
Halal Food: Very sparse. The Asian restaurant Bahor bills itself as offering the “only halal food in Voronezh,” and there are reportedly a couple of grocery stores selling halal meat, one in the city’s central market.
Mosque: While no official mosque has yet been built in Voronezh, Muslims do gather to pray. According to Halalguide.me, there is an informal mosque on Ulitsa Gvardeyskaya.
Qibla: South.

Essentuki

Essentuki, which will host Nigeria in its Pontos Plaza Hotel (pictured), is famous for its health spas and mineral water, so the 'Super Eagles' should at least be able to relax after their games. Muslim visitors may want to drop by Kurortny Park, where the drinking gallery was inspired by Islamic Moorish design.
Halal Food: Hard to find. There is a kebab house that may be able to provide halal options. Otherwise, head to the area around the mosque in nearby Pyatigorsk.
Mosque: The nearest mosque is 25 minutes drive west in Pyatigorsk, on Skvoznoy Pereulok.
Qibla: Southwest.

Kaluga

It’s all about space exploration in the city where Senegal will be based. Space travel pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky taught in Kaluga in his early years. The town’s main attraction — unsurprisingly — is the Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, reportedly the world’s first space museum. Second billing goes to the rocket scientist’s quaint old wooden family home.
Halal Food: Very hard to find. Asian restaurant Chaikhana and Russian eatery Solyanka (pictured) appear to cater to alternative dietary requirements, and may be worth a call.
Mosque: The town’s main mosque is a converted building off Ulitsa Annenki.
Qibla: South.