Geography, History, and Culture of Bahrain

A person is sprawled out on a net at Pier Against Sky overlooking a Bahrain cityscape

Yuri Nunes / EyeEm / Getty Images

Bahrain is a small country located in the Persian Gulf. It is considered a part of the Middle East and is an archipelago made up of 33 islands. The largest island of Bahrain is Bahrain Island and as such, it is where most of the country's population and economy are based. Like many other Middle Eastern nations, Bahrain has recently been in the news due to increasing social unrest and violent anti-government protests.

Fast Facts: Bahrain

  • Official Name: Kingdom of Bahrain
  • Capital: Manama
  • Population: 1,442,659 (2018)
  • Official Language: Arabic
  • Currency: Bahraini dinars (BHD)
  • Form of Government: Constitutional monarchy
  • Climate: Arid; mild, pleasant winters; very hot, humid summers
  • Total Area: 293 square miles (760 square kilometers)
  • Highest Point: Jebal ad Dukhan at 443 feet (135 meters)
  • Lowest Point: Persian Gulf at 0 feet (0 meters) 

History of Bahrain

Bahrain has a long history that dates back at least 5,000 years, at which time the region served as a trading center between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. The civilization living in Bahrain at that time was the Dilmun civilization, however, when trade with India declined around 2000 BCE, so too did the civilization. In 600 BCE, the region became a part of the Babylonian Empire. According to the U.S. Department of State, little is known about Bahrain's history from this time until the arrival of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE.

During its early years, Bahrain was known as Tylos until the seventh century when it became an Islamic nation. Bahrain was then controlled by various forces until 1783 when the Al Khalifa family took control of the region from Persia.

In the 1830s, Bahrain became a British Protectorate after the Al Khalifa family signed a treaty with the United Kingdom which guaranteed British protection in the event of a military conflict with Ottoman Turkey. In 1935, Britain established its main military base in the Persian Gulf in Bahrain, but Britain announced in 1968 the end of the treaty with Bahrain and other Persian Gulf sheikdoms. As a result, Bahrain joined the eight other sheikdoms to form a union of Arab emirates. However, by 1971, they had not officially unified and Bahrain declared itself independent on August 15, 1971.

In 1973, Bahrain elected its first parliament and drafted a constitution, but in 1975 the parliament was broken up when it tried to remove power from the Al Khalifa family, which still forms the executive branch of Bahrain's government. In the 1990s, Bahrain experienced some political instability and violence from the Shi'a majority and as a result, the government cabinet underwent some changes. These changes initially ended the violence but in 1996, several hotels and restaurants were bombed and the country has been unstable off and on since then.

Government of Bahrain

Today, Bahrain's government is considered a constitutional monarchy; it has a chief of state (the country's king) and a prime minister for its executive branch. It also has a bicameral legislature made up of the Consultative Council and the Council of Representatives. Bahrain's judicial branch consists of its High Civil Appeals Court. The country is divided into five governorates (Asamah, Janubiyah, Muharraq, Shamaliyah, and Wasat) that is administered by an appointed governor.

Economics and Land Use in Bahrain

Bahrain has a diversified economy with many multinational firms. A large part of Bahrain's economy depends on oil and petroleum production, however. Other industries in Bahrain include aluminum smelting, iron pelletization, fertilizer production, Islamic and offshore banking, insurance, ship repairing, and tourism. Agriculture only represents about 1% of Bahrain's economy, but the main products are fruit, vegetables, poultry, dairy products, shrimp, and fish.

Geography and Climate of Bahrain

Bahrain is located in the Middle East's Persian Gulf to the east of Saudi Arabia. It is a small nation with a total area of just 293 square miles (760 sq km) spread out over many different islands. Bahrain has a relatively flat topography consisting of a desert plain. The central part of Bahrain's main island has a low elevation escarpment and the highest point in the country is Jabal ad Dukhan at 443 feet (135 m).

The climate of Bahrain is arid and as such it has mild winters and very hot, humid summers. The country's capital and largest city, Manama, has an average January low temperature of 57 degrees (14˚C) and an average August high temperature of 100 degrees (38˚C).​

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