The Qal'at al-Bahrain (in Arabic: قلعة البحرين, also known as the Bahrain Fort or Fort of Bahrain and previously as the Portugal Fort (Qal'at al Portugal) as well as the fort of Nader Shah, the Persian king) is an archaeological site located in Bahrain. Archaeological excavations carried out since 1954 have unearthed antiquaries from an artificial mound of 12 m height containing seven stratified layers, created by various occupants from 2300 BC up to the 18th century, including Kassites, Portuguese and Persians. It was once the capital of the Dilmun civilization and was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.
History and explorations
The archaeological finds unearthed in the fort reveal much about the history of the country. The area is believed to have been occupied for some 5000 years and contains a valuable insight into the copper and Bronze Ages of Bahrain. The first Bahrain Fort was built around three thousand years ago, on the northeastern tip of Bahrain Island. The present fort dates from the sixth century CE. The capital of the Dilmun civilization, Dilmun was known as the "land of immortality" and the ancestral place of Sumerians, a place where the Gods met.
The site has been termed as Bahrain's "most important site in antiquity" and excavations have been carried out since 1954. The first excavation at the site was carried out by a Danish expedition between 1954 and 1970 which was later followed up by a French expedition from 1977. Since 1987 Bahrain archaeologists have been involved with this work. The archaeological findings have revealed seven civilizations of urban structures beginning with Dilmun empire, the most important ancient civilizations of the region. The Danish expedition revealed that it was a notable Hellenistic site.
The fort and the tel are located on the Bahrain island, 6 km from the seashore towards the Northeast. On a clear day it is also seen from Saar. It stands like a "sentinel" near Manama, the capital of Bahrain; it is 4 km away from Manama in the fertile north coast. The tel is the largest in the Gulf region and was built close to the port and built by reclamation of seashore land.
Qal`at al-Bahrain is a typical tell - an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation. The strata spread over an area 180000 sqft, laid out over the 300×600m tell, testifies to continuous human presence from about 2300 BC to the 16th century AD. About 25% of the site has been excavated revealing structures of different types: residential, public, commercial, religious and military. They testify to the importance of the site as a trading port over the centuries. On the top of the 12m high mound, there is the impressive Qal`at al-Burtughal (Portuguese fort), which gave the whole site its name, qal`a, meaning "fort}. The site was the capital of the Dilmun, one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region. It contains the richest remains inventoried of this civilization, which was hitherto only known from written Sumerian references.
The site contains many areas and walls, including Saar necropolis, Al-Hajjar necropolis, Kassite Palace, Madimat Hermand necropolis, Madimat Isa necropolis, Al-Maqsha Necropolis, Palace of Uperi, Shakhura necropolis, and the Northern city wall. The ruins of the copper age consists of two sections of the fortification wall and the streets and houses immediately within it and a colossal building on the edge of the moat of the Portuguese fort in the centre. Barbar pottery has been unearthed around the walls of the central building, dating back to the same age as the Barbar temples, although other pottery and range of artefacts unearthed indicated some of them predated the temples, dating back to 3000 BC or later. Relics of copper and ivory provide an insight into ancient trade links. Many vessels have been unearthed on the site, and Danish excavations of the Palace of Uperi area revealed "snake bowls", sarcophagus and a mirror, and many others.
The excavations of the tel has revealed a small settlement, the only one of that period in all of eastern Arabia, on its northern side. It has been inferred that the village was settled by people who developed agriculture near the oasis, planted palm trees, tended cattle, sheep and goat and also ventured into fishing in the Arabian Sea. The small houses that they built were made of rough stone with clay and or mortar as binding material. The houses had with plastered floors and were spacious. The village had well laid out streets.
The fortifications seen in the excavated tel area were found around the township and were erected in cardinal directions. The fort walls are seen now only in the northern, western and southern slopes of the tel, and the eastern side is yet to be excavated. The fortifications covered an area of 15 ha and the walls were built with varying thickness with stone masonry with gates to allow for donkey carrying loads to pass through. The fortifications were frequently raised, as noted from the gates erected at four levels; the latest gate had two polished stone (made of fine grained material) pivots to fix a double leafed gate. The western wall was seen well preserved for a length of 30 ft. The streets were laid in north-south direction and were 12 m wide.
In the centre of the tel was a palace at a commanding location consisting of several warehouses which was inferred as indicative of economic activity of the Dilmun period. Proceeding from here towards the north along the street leads to a large gate that probably was the entry to the palace grounds. The modest houses built to the same size and type of construction were laid along a network of roads.
The place prospered till 1800 BC where after it was deserted. Eventually the town became covered with drift sand from the sea.
Metal artifacts found in the tel were limited to copper pieces, a socketed spearhead, fishing tools; a workshop of 15x35 m size was also identified where copper casting two piece moulds and wax moulds were found. small and large crucibles used for melting of the metal were recovered in substantial quantities indicative of large scale manufacture by professional artisans. This is also indicative of trading in such copper ware with Oman and Mesopotamia. Stamp seals of the Dilmun type were also recovered from the excavations.
Pots and vessels were also found. Pots are confirmation of use for cooking. The large vessels were used for import of food and drinks from Oman and Mesopotamia. Several artifacts found, such as a cuneiform inscription and hematite link to Mesopotamia, steatite bowls are from Oman, and carnelian beads, a stone weight and a few potsherds are inferred as from the Indus Civilization.