Over the last 50 or so years, Juffair has witnessed numerous transformations.
The neighbourhood once had four public date palm gardens as well as ‘two natural springs – Al Janna, a cold spring, and Al Naar, a warm one,’ recalls Essa Amin, president of the Juffair-based Bahrain History and Archaeology Society. Expansions of the US naval base in Juffair’s Al Ghuraifa area in the 1970s, the construction of high rise buildings, restaurants and hotels and a series of land reclamation projects in the 1980s and early 2000s all contributed to the evolving nature of the area.
Before the naval base in Al Ghuraifa was taken over by the US Navy, it was owned by the UK Royal Navy. Private housing was provided to the marines between 1936 and 1971. ‘They hosted multiple functions in that area, such as donkey racing and Christmas celebrations, all of which were open to the public,’ says Yusuf Fulad, president of Juffair’s Bahrain Cinema Club, who grew up in Al Ghuraifa.
Within the urban sprawl in the east of Juffair, a village that predates the commercial and reclaimed areas still stands – with a community whose families were involved in a once flourishing fishery trade, a handful of maatams and a sleepy village atmosphere. Also coexisting with the neighbourhood’s commercial developments are a number of cultural clubs that opened during a ‘golden age’ in the 1970s and continue to operate today. More recently the Isa Cultural Centre, which includes a national archive and library, opened its doors in 2008.
Situated between Al Ghuraifa and the neighbourhood’s newer district is old Juffair. Cold stores, hair salons, tea shops and bakeries – selling items for the typical Bahraini breakfast spread including mahyawa – lead the way to the village.
Behind a mosque are two high rise towers that peer into the village. An imaginary border drawn by the residents of the village separates it from the rest of Juffair in the hopes of preserving their traditions. Signs on lampposts and walls around the area remind visitors of the community rules set by the local committee.
A few blocks in, a large boat rests in front of a house, reminiscent of the significance the fishery business had in old Juffair when it was situated closer to the coast before the land reclamations. In fact, the village’s community is mostly made up of descendants of fishermen.
Towards the west, and across from the old village, is Juffair Dome.
Juffair Dome was built in 1979 to host the Asian Volleyball Championships. When the sports hall first opened, it housed a volleyball stadium and seating for 4,000 spectators. In its heyday, it hosted regional and international tournaments in basketball and volleyball as well as arts and culture festivals, but now sits abandoned, awaiting renovation.
The hall remains an architectural icon in Juffair, its sweeping hemispherical roof distinctive against the cityscape. As a geodesic dome – a structure that American architect Buckminster Fuller was best known for – the roof is made of aluminium and created from triangles, a shape that withstands pressure well and provides stability. According to research by Mawane, an organisation that studies urban development in Bahrain, Juffair Dome was a project of UK-based architecture consultancy firm Module 2, with Bahraini architect Hael El Warry on the team.
The interior, wide and concave, once echoed the cheers of supporters on the stadium benches – with the last match held in 2011. A scoreboard that displayed the winnings of Juffair’s Volleyball Association hangs high to the far right.
Al Oruba Club
One of the oldest clubs in Bahrain, Al Oruba hosts a varied range of activities, from sporting events to talks on social and political issues. ‘Our halls have been filled with great thinkers, poets and artists. We even sponsored theatre productions in our earlier days,’ says secretary Sanad Mohamed Sanad.
Among Al Oruba’s activities is a chess club that’s been running for over 40 years. ‘The main tournament is usually held during Ramadan, each with 70 to 80 participants,’ says Mahmood Humaidan, the club’s treasurer and head of the chess committee. ‘We once invited a French-Syrian chess player who’s said to have played against 50 participants simultaneously and won all but a few matches.’
The floor of a courtyard outside is decorated to resemble a large chessboard. The halls of the club’s building, where it moved some 50 years after it was founded in 1939, are hung with paintings donated by artists who’ve showcased their work at the club. The library, named after Mahdi Al Tajir, a member and longtime donor, has around C 5,000 books and manuscripts.
Bahrain Cinema Club
Bahrain’s cinematic history dates back to 1922, when Mahmood Al Saati established the first cinema in the country, housed in a cottage and equipped with a projector. The industry continued to grow until 1980, when a group of young graduates returning home from Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon set up Bahrain Cinema Club, which was among the first of its kind in the Gulf.
During the late 1990s, the Minister of Information Tariq Al Moayed awarded a building in Al Ghuraifa to Bahrain Cinema Club through the efforts of Bassam Al Thawadi – a pioneer of filmmaking in Bahrain and one of the club’s earliest members. Before that, meetings were held in theatres and the offices of other clubs. ‘We had neither a premise nor office space, but we always found a way to reach our audience,’ says Fulad.
The building has an archive of movies, old and new, stored in a room with large posters of films directed and produced by local filmmakers. A 16mm movie projector used in the 1980s sits outside the cinema hall, which accommodates 55. ‘We treat the cinematic experience like an art form,’ explains Fulad. ‘On our special Q&A nights, film screenings are usually followed by an interactive and rich discussion.’
Over the years, the club has cultivated connections between local filmmakers and international film festivals. One of its most notable activities was hosting the first edition of Manama’s Arab Cinema Festival in Bahrain in March 2000 when artists, directors, writers and critics were invited to foster discussions on cinematic history.
Bahrain History and Archaeology Society
Bahrain History and Archaeology Society was established with the help of Danish professors Geoffrey Bibby and Peter Vilhelm Glob, who shortly afterwards carried out excavations in Bahrain Fort in 1954. The society was created to raise awareness of the archipelago’s history through talks, courses, publications and field visits to museums and archaeological sites.
In the entrance hall, the walls and a few bookshelves showcase some of the society’s achievements and publications, including the annual Dilmun Magazine. One wall bears a wooden plaque listing names of honorary members of the society: writers, artists and a handful of the organisation’s supporters, such as ministers Yousuf Al Shirawi and Tariq Al Moayed. A lecture hall within the club’s one storey headquarters hosts 25 to 30 lectures a year, addressing ‘three main topics: history, archeology and heritage,’ explains Essa Amin. Transcripts of lectures held as part of the society’s yearly cultural season are printed in Dilmun Magazine.
Amin is seated in the building’s library among shelves of reference books on Bahrain’s historical, political, social, medical and commercial activities. ‘Our library is extensive and includes medical records from the American Mission Hospital from 1898 to 1954 as well as reports on the Danish, French, Japanese and Jordanian archaeological expeditions in Bahrain.’ Also among the collection are books translated by him into Arabic and offered free to the public, the most recent of which is on the Hellenistic Gulf in 300 CE.
Bahrain Society of Engineers
A community and research centre, Bahrain Society of Engineers hosts conferences, exhibitions, lectures, workshops and training courses with experts. ‘We have two main publications, Al Mohandis Times and Al Mohandis Magazine, which comes out every three to four months and has contributions from our members,’ says Mahdi Al Jalawi, a member of the society for over 10 years. The journal contains interviews with leading engineers, articles by University of Bahrain professors and news of the engineering community in Bahrain.
Twenty years after the society was established in 1972, it moved into its current building designed by Iraqi architect Yousif Al Sayegh, a founding member. ‘The façade is simple, but looks like a mural by merging traditional, repetitive ornamental designs with modern functionality,’ says Al Sayegh, who has also designed 16 mosques in Bahrain.
The front and back courtyards have fountains decorated with mosaic tiles. ‘They’ve been designed as if they’re part of the liwan, inviting the visitors inward,’ he says.
This article appears in the issue65Buy Now