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Bahrain’s offshore location - in the midst of some of the most fertile lands in the ancient world - made the archipelago very attractive to powerful empires. At some point during its five thousand year history, Manama was occupied by the Babylonian, Sumerian, Greek, Persian, and Ottoman Empires, and there was even a brief stint where Portugal had control over the city. Though Bahrain consists of around thirty small islands, Manama has historically been the only major city, occupying over a third of the largest island.
Manama sustained itself largely through farming; though its climate made it possible to grow only a limited variety of fruits, the city nonetheless managed to outlive each of these empires. In 1783, the Al-Khalifa monarchs assumed power of Bahrain. Based in Manama, the same monarchy rules today, though with a reduced role in governing.
The discovery of oil in the 1930s reversed Manama’s economy entirely. Agriculture went into a total decline, as oil drilling and heavy industries took its place. With industrialization came political change. In 2000, a parliament was elected to share power with the royal family, and a year later women were given the right to vote. These measures have helped make Manama one of the Middle East’s most democratic capitals.