Arad Fort (Qal’at ‘Arad), Bahrain’s Lesser-Known 15th Century Fortress

The Bahraini flag atop one the fort's four towers

photography by: Omri Westmark

Throughout its history, the smallish island of Bahrain experienced multiple invasions and conquests by stronger foes. In order to defend itself from foreign threats, a series of fortresses was constructed along its convoluted coastline. While Arad Fort is neither the largest, nor the most famous of which, its tumultuous past coupled with the sheer lack of visitors make this ancient edifice an incredibly worthy place to explore.

Due to its strategic location over the Persian Gulf, the island-nation of Bahrain, throughout all of its cultural reincarnations, was a major regional trading center. While that geographical virtue benefited the island, it also triggered a series of invasions by larger and more powerful entities.

 

Nestled about a mile away from Bahrain International Airport, Arad Fort, locally known as Qal’at ‘Arad, was initially erected by the local Bedouin tribes as a defensive measure against multiple foreign threats. The fortress, which is located in the town with which it shares its name, was probably built around the late 15th century, as its Islamic architectural style implies.

 

As originally Arad and the adjacent Muharraq island were separate landmasses, the fort helped secure the important waterways that linked the area with other parts of Bahrain and the outside world. Its formidable ramparts were enough to ward off some attackers, but failed to deter the Portuguese who took control over the island in the 16th century.

 

In the following centuries, the fort along with the rest of the Bahraini archipelago exchanged hands many times, controlled by the Persians, the Bani Utbah Arab clans and the Omanis, to name just a few. Each ruler had left his own unique mark on the building’s history and structure, yet it was the Omanis who rebuilt much of the current fort around 1800, making it the seat of their 12 years old governor, Salim bin Sultan.

 

Architecturally, the fortress features a square shaped plan, encircled by a double wall, made of inner and outer ramparts. The surrounding trench formerly functioned as a moat, filled with water that came from close-by wells, dug ad-hoc for that goal. Each of the building’s four corners is topped by a bulky circular tower with a few slits, from where sharpshooters use to fire at any looming danger.

 

In 1980, 160 years after the country’s current ruling dynasty, Al Khalifa, came to power, the historic fortress was thoroughly restored using the same materials which were incorporated into the original structure, such as palm trunks and coral stones. Far eclipsed by its larger counterpart, the Bahrain Fort, Arad Fort gets only a miniscule number of visitors all year round. It then should come as no surprise that upon a visit, you’ll probably have the entire place for yourself to explore.