Pearl farming, certification of the island economy - World Cultural Heritage in Bahrain

The site consists of seventeen buildings in the town of Muharraq, three offshore oyster beds, part of the coast, and the fortress of Qal’at Bu Mahir at the southern tip of Muharraq Island , where ships once sailed to the Oyster Bed. Listed buildings include residences of wealthy merchants, shops, warehouses and mosques. The site is the last complete example of the cultural tradition of the pearl and the wealth it generated at a time when trade dominated the economy of the Gulf (from the 2nd century to the 1930s, when trade dominated the economy of the Gulf). Gulf. Japan is developing pearl farming). It is also an outstanding example of the traditional use of marine resources and human interaction with the environment, which have shaped both the economy and the cultural identity of societies around the world.

Year of accreditation: 2012
Criteria: (iii)
Area: 35,086.81 ha
Buffer zone: 95,876.44 ha

Outstanding Overall Value

The traditional use of the sea to harvest pearls from the Persian Gulf oyster fields has shaped the economy of the island of Bahrain for millennia. As the most famous source of pearls since ancient times, the Gulf industry reached its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The wealth of what became global trade is reflected in the growth from the business district of the city of Muharraq. A few distinctive residential and commercial buildings that still bear witness to this proud but dangerous and demanding economic activity suffered a sudden and catastrophic collapse in the 1930s due to the development of pearl farming from freshwater mussels in Japan.

The property consists of seventeen buildings within the urban fabric of Muharraq, three offshore oyster beds and part of the coastline at the southern tip of Muharraq Island, from where boats depart for oyster fields.

Architectural evidence includes residential and commercial structures that are tangible manifestations of key social and economic roles and institutions associated with pearl societies. Most of the structures have survived relatively intact since the collapse of the pearling industry in the early 20th century, and bear witness to the distinctive building tradition that this industry fosters, particularly the high standards of wood and plaster craftsmanship. These buildings evoke memories of this industry, its supporting social and economic structures, and the cultural identity it creates.

Criterion (iii): The complex of urban assets, fortresses, coastlines and oyster-farming beaches bears exceptional testimony to the final flourishing of the pearling cultural tradition that has dominated the Persian Gulf since the last century (2nd to the beginning of the Twentieth century). the mining industry is dead, these sites still carry the memory of its prosperity and the building traditions it nurtured.

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The property reflects the buildings created following the great prosperity of the pearling industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and its economic structures. It also reflects the oyster reefs upon which prosperity and the coastal connection between land and sea are built.

The selection of urban sites is limited due to the legacy of the pearling industry which was neglected from its collapse in the 1930s until the new millennium. As a result, many buildings were demolished and those that remained were neglected and negatively impacted by the new development around them. The selected urban sites reflect extensive architectural, anthropological and historical investigations and are considered sites that remind the local community of the pearling industry. They reflect a variety of the main merchant activities associated with the pearl industry as well as its construction tradition.

Therefore, urban locations are islands within the city. They are still extremely vulnerable and many buildings need major renovations to give them adequate stability. The oysters are not threatened, nor are the coasts and forts.

To maintain integrity, great care must be taken in stabilizing and preserving structures to retain the optimum amount of original tissue, as well as using traditional materials and processes. It is also important to ensure that sites can be seen to be sympathetically connected to the larger urban structures in which they reside.


The authenticity of the property is linked to its ability to convey its Outstanding Universal Value in terms of conveying information about the economic and social processes of the pearling industry. For buildings, this involves their ability to represent their condition, use, architectural form, materials and local techniques and workmanship – in particular the exceptionally high quality of Some skills are employed in woodworking and plasterwork . Many urban buildings are very vulnerable to structural and decorative damage due to lack of use and maintenance. Any work should ensure minimal intervention to preserve the original material as much as possible so that the buildings can still provide tangible links to their decades of past glory while being robust enough for use and accessibility. As for the fort, it was necessary to reverse part of the restoration work of the last decades and reintroduce traditional materials.

Underwater oyster beds are still thriving, although there is nothing to pass on their fishing traditions; the coast, although a small part of what once existed and is now badly damaged by later development, nevertheless adds an important attribute and is the focal point for important intangible cultural associations involved in obtaining pearls. The fragility of the urban structure is a potential threat to authenticity as conservation, if overdone, can erase the memory that buildings currently evoke.

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Protection and management requirements

The Coast of Bū Māhir and the individual sites of Muharraq are both nationally protected as designated National Monuments under Decree Law No. (11) 1995 on the Protection of Antiquities of January 10, 2010 and their future management falls under of the Ministry of Culture. Three oyster beds and their marine buffer zones are currently nationally protected under the Fauna Protection Decree (2) 1995; Decree No. 21 of 1996 on the environment (Amiri Decree); and Decree (20) 2002 regulating fishing and the exploitation of marine resources. A legal decree that specifically designates marine areas and buffer zones as national marine protected areas was approved in 2011.

In November 2011, the Ministry of Culture released a vision for the development of Old Muharraq – both the sites and the entire area of ​​Old Muharraq surrounding them, including the buffer zone. This presents a holistic approach to preserving the historic character of Muharraq from two main ‘viewpoints’, legal and social. New laws aimed at limiting population growth or unplanned construction, preventing the deterioration of urban structural features and protecting urban sites, settlements and antiquities will apply by the end of 2013. The social framework will aim to affirm the identity of the former Muharraq, through raising the standard of living; Specific restoration projects and design guidelines.

A dedicated site management unit has been created within the Ministry of Culture to coordinate the implementation of the management system. The unit, responsible for reporting to the Undersecretary for Culture, is made up of an interdisciplinary team of researchers, conservation architects, urban planning and restoration experts, marine biologists and environmental specialists , urban area managers and GIS specialists, all supported by an administrative team involved in finance, marketing, etc.

A steering committee has been established as the governing body of the administration and asset management system. The committee brings together at ministerial level, members of 12 government agencies representing all project partners and stakeholders, as well as representatives of private owners of Muharraq properties and businesses in the urban buffer zone. The Steering Committee is chaired by the Minister of Culture. A management plan is applied to the property.

To meet the challenges of restoring fragile buildings in Muharraq and maintaining them on an ongoing basis, it is necessary to train in traditional skills, particularly in woodworking and fine plaster techniques, while developing knowledge of the tradition. materials. The Member State has demonstrated its commitment to this training, at the practical level and within the framework of higher education. Care must also be taken to ensure that the context of the sites is respected within the municipality of Muharraq.

Pearl card, certification of an island economy

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