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Urban Areas

The population of Bahrain is overwhelmingly urban. About 85 percent of the people live in cities or suburbs. Most working-age men who reside in villages commute to jobs in urban areas. The largest city, Manama, is the principal commercial and cultural center. It had an estimated population of 152,000 in 1992. Manama's expansion since 1960, when its population was only 62,000, resulted in entire villages, fields, and palm and fruit groves--located to the east, north, and south of the city--being incorporated as part of the urban sprawl. Manama also spread to the west through the reclamation of hundreds of hectares from the sea. Traditional brick houses, built with central courtyards and wind towers in the architectural style of southern Iran, and covered bazaars are found in the old sections of the city. In the newer and less congested neighborhoods, multistory apartment complexes, high-rise hotels and office buildings, and supermarkets predominate. Because most of Bahrain's foreign workers tend to live in the city, their presence provides Manama with a cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Manama (Al Manamah), the capital, is located on the northeastern tip of the island of Bahrain. The main port, Mina Salman, also is located on the island, as are the major petroleum refining facilities and commercial centers. Causeways and bridges connect Bahrain to adjacent islands and the mainland of Saudi Arabia. The oldest causeway, originally constructed in 1929, links Bahrain to Al Muharraq, the second largest island. Although the island is only six kilometers long, the country's second largest city, Al Muharraq, and the international airport are located there. A causeway also connects Al Muharraq to the tiny island of Jazirat al Azl, the site of a major ship-repair and dry-dock center. South of Jazirat al Azl, the island of Sitrah, site of the oil export terminal, is linked to Bahrain by a bridge that spans the narrow channel separating the two islands. The causeway to the island of Umm an Nasan, off the west coast of Bahrain, continues on to the Saudi mainland town of Al Khubar. Umm an Nasan is the private property of the amir and the site of his personal game preserve.

The city of Al Muharraq, which had an estimated population of 75,000 in 1992, is the country's only other major city. Until the 1930s, the ruler lived in Al Muharraq; thus, for more than a century, the city served as Bahrain's political center, and its commercial importance rivaled that of Manama. Al Muharraq declined after the Al Khalifa family moved to the island of Bahrain, and for nearly forty years the city stagnated. During the 1970s, however, the construction of the US$60 million Arab Shipbuilding and Repair Yard adjacent to the fishing village of Al Hadd, located southeast of Bahrain International Airport, helped to stimulate an investment and development boom in the city.

Bahrain's main towns are Jidd Hafs, Ar Rifaa, Sitrah, and Madinat Isa. Throughout the nineteenth century and during the first half of the twentieth, Jidd Hafs was a relatively prosperous village renowned for its extensive date palm groves and the manufacture of medicinal drugs from the buds, flowers, and pollen of palm trees. By 1975, however, Jidd Hafs had been transformed into Manama's largest suburb. Ar Rifaa, which originally consisted of two adjacent villages--Ar Rifaa ash Sharqi and Ar Rifaa al Gharbi, established in the nineteenth century near natural springs in the central region of Bahrain-- grew rapidly after 1952 when Shaykh Salman ibn Hamad established his official residence there. Ar Rifaa's importance as the country's political center has continued under Shaykh Isa ibn Salman, who constructed his palace in the town, as did several other members of the Al Khalifa. The town of Sitrah formerly consisted of several palm-cultivating villages, but extensive residential construction during the 1970s fused the villages into one large suburban town.

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