woensdag 22 februari 2012

Bahrain, Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

Qal’at al-Bahrain is a typical tell – an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation. The strata of the 300 × 600 m tell testify 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, a trading port, over the centuries. On the top of the 12 m mound there is the impressive Portuguese fort, which gave the whole site its name, qal’a (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.

Qal'at al-Bahrain is an archaeological site surrounded by palm groves. It has the shape and all the characteristics of a typical tel, created by successive occupation layers built one on top of the other. Archaeological excavations at the site started 50 years ago by a Danish expedition, working between 1954 and 1970, followed by a French expedition since 1978 and archaeologists from Bahrain since 1987.
The earliest stratum on the site, dated to around 2300 BC, consists of what were probably residential structures, located near the sea. This was the period when a thick masonry wall was constructed, to surround and protect the settlement. A later wall, possibly reinforcement of the first one, was erected around 1450 BC. Different occupation layers were uncovered in the central excavation area. The main architecture uncovered consists of a street, measuring 12 m in width, with large, monumental structures on both sides. The earlier buildings were modified and enlarged, to serve as the palace of the Kassite governor (the Kassites were the Mesopotamian colonizers of the site). In the same excavation area, several luxurious residences, with private and public spaces and elaborate sanitation system, also belong to the same period.
This was the site of an important port city, where people and traditions from different parts of the then known world met, lived and practised their commercial activities. It was the capital of one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region - the Dilmun civilization. A coastal fortress was excavated on the northern part of the site. It was probably not built before the 3rd century AD. Its building materials were reused for the construction later of the large medieval fortress - the Fort of Bahrain.

From the 16th century until the abandonment of the site, it served mainly for military purposes. A large fortress which was built on top of the tel dominates the site and even gave it its name. The large fortress of Bahrain has several building phases. The first phase dates to the beginning of the 15th century. In 1529 the first significant enlargement of the fortress and its moat took place, as well as its adaptation to modern artillery. The third phase is the one that gave the fortress its present form. This phase dates to 1561, when the island came under Portuguese rule and several corner bastions in Genoese style were added and the moat enlarged. The strengthening and enlargement of the fortress reflects the growing importance of the sea trade route to India and China, as well as the rivalries between the Principality of Hormuz, the Portuguese, the Persian Safavids and the Ottoman Turks. The old access channel, cut into the coral reef, which made the site attractive for centuries, had become almost completely silted up by this time, and could only be reached by small vessels and at high tide. This was also the main reason for the final abandonment of the whole site of Qal'at al-Bahrain, and its gradual transformation from a 4,500-year-old settlement to an archaeological site.
The palaces of Dilmun are unique examples of public architecture of this culture, which had an impact on architecture in general in the region. The different fortifications are the best examples of defensive works from the 3rd century BC to the 16th century AD, all on one site. The protected palm groves surrounding the site illustrate the typical landscape and agriculture of the region since the 3rd century BC.

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