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Bahrain: Barbar temple

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Barbar temple | Bahrain | Asia

[Visited: June 2001, August 2014]

It had been many years before, during my first visit to Bahrain, that I took a bus to the west, to visit the ruins of the temple of Barbar. The memories were vague, and the pictures sketchy, so I decided to re-visit one of the most important ancient temples of Bahrain. When I reach the same bus station, one of the buses is going to Budayah: the right direction - straight west. The city has changed a lot since my first visit, and is still changing: skyscrapers are appearing from the ground, the coastline is shifting as new areas are being reclaimed from the sea. This shiny modern feel belies the fact that this country actually holds very history in its ground - from the period when it was part of the ancient Dilmun civilization. I walk a quiet street after getting off the bus. Even though it is still quite early in the morning, I am sweating heavily when I reach the empty, dusty parking lot. On my first visit, a guide had taken me around, explaining what I was seeing. The ruins were surrounded by green grass: it was early summer. This time, the guy in the little booth at the opening in the barbed wire surrounding the terrain just waves at me from the inside, but does not come outside. I will have to walk the heat of the ruins by myself.

Picture of Barbar temple (Bahrain):

It turns out that whatever the guide told me on my first visit, has vanished into the dust of my memory, and does not really come back to mind when I walk around. I remember there were sacrifices here, stones where blood could run away from, that Barbar temple is built on a water well. Obviously, water has always played a crucial part for inhabitants of this hot climate. Even though it is not known which god was worshipped in this temple - the temple is named after the village it is in - it is assumed that the well is related to the watergod Enki, who was the most important god in the harsh environment of the Dilmun civilization. This, and other facts, I would learn a few hours later, on my visit to the National Museum, which has extensive coverage of, among others, Barbar temple. I did not remember my guide telling me that there are, in fact, ruins of three temples here, one built on top of the other. At the far side, there is an oval-shaped stone court. This is where the sacrifices were carried out. The ground here was found littered with bones of animals that had been slaughtered.

Picture of Barbar temple (Bahrain): Ruined pillar giving an indication of the size of the temple complex

On top of the small mound where the temples are built, I find three separate carved blocks of limestone, with a hole near the top. They were probably used to tie the sacrificial animals, until it was their turn to be offered to the gods. Close by, two semi-circles mark an altar of Temple III. Walking around the dusty ruins, the most remarkable sight are the straight walls with neatly cut blocks. They are limestone, and were quarried from the island of Jidda, and taken to this spot by boat. Stairs lead to a lower spot, surrounded by walls, and with two openings. This is where the source of sweet water is located, and which probably was the reason to build the temple on this exact spot in the first place. The first temple, the most recent one, was excavated in 1954 by a Danish team; the other two temples were discovered later. Many objects were found, but all taken away, leaving the ruins bare as they are now. It was also discovered that the different temples actually had different orientations. The temples bear resemblance to temples in Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq. So it was, when I walked around the ruined remains of the temples of Barbar, that, even though only the outlines of the temple were visible, I strongly felt like walking around history.

Picture of Barbar temple (Bahrain): Three different ancient temples can be distinguished at the mound at Barbar
Picture of Barbar temple (Bahrain): The lowest section of Barbar temple with access to the source of water
Picture of Barbar temple (Bahrain): Top section of the mound of Barbar temple with semi-circular shaped altar of building
Picture of Barbar temple (Bahrain): Several walls are still clearly visible in the ruins of Barbar temple
Picture of Barbar temple (Bahrain): Big blocks of limestone form one of the walls of the ruins of Barbar temple
Picture of Barbar temple (Bahrain): The lowest part of Barbar temple, with access to the water source
Picture of Barbar temple (Bahrain): Remains of one of the temples of Barbar, constructed of limestone quarried at Jidda Island
Picture of Barbar temple (Bahrain): View of the ruins of Barbar temple
Picture of Barbar temple (Bahrain): The upper part of the ruins of the temple of Barbar
Picture of Barbar temple (Bahrain): Semi-circular shaped altar with blocks of rock, with two blocks with holes in the background, used to tie sacrificial animals
Picture of Barbar temple (Bahrain): The ruins of Barbar temple in the background, a lone pillar in the foreground

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