MANAMA: Bahrain’s H M King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa opened one of the largest theatres in the Middle East this week as part of a drive to smooth over months of unrest that have rocked the state.
The new 1,001-seat Bahrain National Amphitheatre, an elegant cubic glass structure with a golden-coloured roof, was built at a cost $50m with an Arabian Nights theme and will stage a busy season of performances that include Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre and Spanish tenor Placido Domingo.
“This theatre adds a great deal, through cultural activities that bring people close and embodies the dreams of every citizen,” Bahraini Culture Minister, Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, said.
“Bahrain is no exception to what is happening in the world,” Sheikha Mai said. “We are living a reality that consecrates the culture of hope and which presents all that is beautiful to residents and all those who love Bahrain,” she added.
Decked with all the amenities of a modern cultural centre needed to attract world events, including a 100-seat rehearsal hall, the 11,669 square metre national theatre is the latest artistic foray in the Gulf region.
Last year, Oman opened the first opera house in the Gulf region in a move that also signaled a drive to push ahead with cultural activities despite protests over lack of employment. The Gulf’s tourism and trading hub, Dubai has also unveiled plans to build its own opera house.
Bahrain, an archipelago of 33 islands located between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is also home to the ancient Dilmun civilisation, containing one of the most ancient burial sites in the Arabian Peninsula.
Before the United Arab Emirates began attracting foreign investors in the 1990s, Bahrain served as a regional tourism, information and banking hub.
Much of the international media covering the Gulf region are based in Bahrain, where some 600,000 people live. Bahraini officials say they want to regain the edge that once made the country attractive to foreign investors.
Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is reported to be planning to launch his satellite news channel, Alarab, from Bahrain. The Prince, who walked side-by-side with King Hamad, inspected the spacious seaside theatre grounds, and is also reported to be planning to shift some of his media and cultural investments from Dubai to Bahrain.