A HISTORIC island in Muharraq is set to be turned into a tourist destination that will showcase the country’s old times.Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (Baca) president Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa has informed the Muharraq Municipal Council that its proposal to preserve and promote Al Sayah Island fits in with Baca’s plans.

In April last year, former Baca president Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa had designated the island as a national heritage and had asked the Survey and Land Registration Bureau to identify it as such on maps.The natural island with a six-metre diameter circular opening in the middle includes a natural water spring and contains the remains of what could be a fort or a defence tower with parts of walls still standing, Shaikha Mai noted in her decision published in the Official Gazette.

The place is rich in history and folklore, including tales of Prophet Mohammed once passing through Al Sayah.A hungry genie was also rumoured to have once inhabited the island. Named Bu Gedo, it supposedly demanded that picnickers leave food for it.A number of scientific studies conducted by researchers from Bahrain University concluded that the sounds attributed to Bu Gedo over hundreds of years were the natural ecological release of air during low and high tides.“We completed the first phase of excavations last year to clearly identify the features of the historic island,” Shaikh Mohammed told council members at yesterday’s session.

“We have managed to rescue it from being reclaimed for urban development and we intend to showcase it in the best way possible as a witness to history.”Meanwhile, council chairman Abdulaziz Al Naar said that the council was open to the idea of converting the place into a tourist destination provided its heritage is protected.“Wooden shacks and kiosks could be built to be used as a museum, cafés and restaurants and for other purposes such as selling souvenirs, memorabilia and traditional merchandise,” he said.“This should come while protecting the island’s features particularly the nature spring which could be like a fountain.”The island was under threat from a planned BD94 million bridge linking Muharraq and Manama, reclamation work for which started in January 2020, but it has since been rerouted.The 550-metre bridge is an extension of the 7.8-km-long North Muharraq Highway project which also includes a 4.2-km-long Muharraq ring road.Once completed, the project will connect north Busaiteen and Bahrain Bay.

According to details unveiled following an archaeological survey carried out by a team of Bahraini and British experts in February 2022, Al Sayah Island could have been a freshwater supplying depot built on reclaimed land more than 1,200 years ago – a rare example of an ‘extraordinary feat of engineering’.The island west of Busaiteen was once thought to be a natural formation of fossilised coral reefs, but the latest discovery suggests otherwise.Professor Robert Carter, leader of the team of archaeologists from Exeter University and Southampton University, said a cylindrical brick structure, or a cistern, was built around the submerged spring.

This was followed by a thick circular wall with a diameter of about 20m and was filled to become a small island.Prof Carter added that a second sloping wall of about 40m in diameter was constructed at a later stage to expand the island. And, more tall structures and expansions brought it to its current length of 60m.He said most of the island is covered in pearl oyster shells mixed with shards of 7th and 8th century pottery, which leads to the belief it might have been significant for the pearl trade.

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