The earliest depiction of Qal’at Bu Mahir is shown on a Portuguese map of 1635. Originally a solid, four-towered fort with massive defensive walls, Qal’at Bu Mahir dominated the Bu Mahir Seashore and played an essential role in the pearling economy. It both defended the nearby Muharraq settlement and protected the basin between Muharraq and the main island of Bahrain. The latter role was vital for the protection of the pearling fleet against pirates and other Arabian Gulf aggressors at the beginning and the end of each diving season. In addition, the fortress protected Muharraq town’s principal water supply, a sweet water source located in the sea.
Qal’at Bu Mahir’s defensive role came to an end in 1868, when British Naval forces destroyed large parts of the fort and assumed some of the protection of Bahrain. From this time, the structure took on a new importance for the pearling society, in particular for the festivals marking the departure and arrival of the pearling fleet, offering spectators one of the highest vantage points on the island’s southern tip for viewing the dhows as they set off and returned.
The many historic events that took place at the fortress or in its immediate vicinity mean that Qal’at Bu Mahir is tied closely to Bahrain’s national heritage. Today, only the southern tower and its attached defensive wing remain. The rest of thefortress’s is visible in the excavated archaeological remains of the north-western and south-eastern towers and the foundations of the northern wall.
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