In the maze of narrow streets and alleys on Muharraq Island, at the far end of a rectangular square, stands Bait Sheikh Isa bin Ali. Built around 1800 and one of the oldest houses of Bahrain, it clearly stands out amidst the surrounding modern apartment blocks. From the outside, it appears like a fortress; a sturdy construction with white-washed walls without windows or doors. On both sides, cars were passing on an asphalted road. We walked around the structure, past the Sheikh Isa bin Ali Mosque, to arrive on the backside of the house, where we found the entrance. A warm afternoon light was falling on the walls, and entered through the richly decorated doorway.
A friendly man in what seemed like military clothes waved us through, saying the ticket seller was not in. We soon found ourselves on a quiet courtyard. The most remarkable feature was the wind tower. We wanted to take advantage of the light, and climbed to the second floor. Here, you can walk on the roof, and visit the various rooms that have been built on top of the ground floor. Around us, we noticed a multitude of satellite dishes on top of the buildings surrounding the historic house. On the east side of the building, on the side of the Grand Mosque, are the guest quarters. Here, you can find a room with stained glass windows, and fine wooden doors. The sun shone right through the room, giving it a serene appearance. We walked to the central part of the house, where another, bigger room can be found on top of the family quarters.
This is an altogether different room; there is a hallway, where you can appreciate the finely decorated wall and doors. Here, no stained glass, but rather carved wood and gypsum that make the room stand out. We walked around the wind tower, the ancient way of providing fresh air throughout the building. A square structure, it is open on all sides, with walls inside funneling the wind down. Once on the ground floor again, we noticed big wooden shutters that could be opened or closed according to the season, to let the air in in summer, or prevent cold air from entering in winter. And indeed, when we stood under the tower, we felt a welcome breeze cooling down our skin. We walked around the sheikh quarters, the family and visitor quarters, each with a courtyard and separate well. In some places, we saw old black and white pictures depicting the history of the house, big enough to be a small fortress. When we left the historic building of Bait Sheikh Isa bin Ali, the sun was just down, and we were surrounded by the call to prayer.
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