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Bahrain is defined by its historic relationship with water; the country’s name means ‘Two Seas’ in Arabic. The focus is not the island’s minimal landmass, but the water that laps its shores. So shallow is the water touching Bahrain’s coastline that the inhabitants regularly ‘reclaim’ pieces of land, filling in the gaps between sand bars, as if winning back lost territory.

The new Bahrain Financial harbour in Manama, the capital city, is currently rising like Neptune from such reclaimed land, and its proud buildings, such as the Dual Towers, appear to be holding back the sea. The sweet water springs that bubble offshore helped bring about 4000 years of settlement, the layers of which are exposed in rich archaeological sites around the island. The springs also encouraged the most lustrous of pearls – the trade which helped build the island’s early fortunes.

Like an oyster, Bahrain’s rough exterior takes some prizing open, but it is worth the effort. From the excellent National Museum in Manama and the traditional houses of Muharraq, to the extraordinary burial mounds in Sar, there are many fine sites to visit. For more modern pearls, there’s the spectacular Bahrain World Trade Centre, King Fahd Causeway and the new islands project at the southern tip.