Bahrain - "two seas"
Bahrain - whose name means "two seas" - was once viewed by the ancient Sumerians as an island paradise to which the wise and the brave were taken to enjoy eternal life.
It was one of the first states in the Gulf to discover oil and to build a refinery; as such, it benefited from oil wealth before most of its neighbours.
"Bahrain Financial Harbour"
But Bahrain never reached the levels of production enjoyed by Kuwait or Saudi Arabia and has been forced to diversify its economy.
The country has been headed since 1783 by the al-Khalifah family, members of the Bani Utbah tribe, who expelled the Persians. From 1861, when a treaty was signed with Britain, until independence in 1971, Bahrain was virtually a British protectorate.
The king is the supreme authority and members of the Sunni Muslim ruling family hold the main political and military posts. There are long-running tensions between Bahrain's Sunnis and the Shia Muslim majority. On occasion, these have spilled over into civil unrest.
In 2001 Bahrainis strongly backed proposals put by the emir - now the king - to turn the country into a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament and an independent judiciary.
Elections were duly held in 2002 for a 40-member parliament, the Council of Deputies. It was the first such poll in nearly 30 years. The new body included a dozen Shia MPs.
The country has enjoyed increasing freedom of expression, and monitors say the human rights situation has improved. However, opposition groups and campaigners continue to press for political reforms, including greater powers for the elected assembly.
Bahrain - a chain of around 30 islands - is a haven for tourists from the region, who take advantage of its relaxed social environment. A close ally of the US, it is home to the American navy's Fifth Fleet.
Politics: The al-Khalifah family has ruled since 1783; Bahrain is now a constitutional monarchy with an elected legislative assembly; majority Shiites are demanding more power from Sunni-led government; elections are due in November 2006
Economy: Bahrain is a banking and financial services centre; its small and reasonably prosperous economy is less dependent on oil than most Gulf states
"Vegetable stall at the weekly Jidhafs market"
The main city and most important tourist destination is without a doubt Manama, the capital. All other sights can be visited from there. With Manama being the capital, most of the malls are here. These include Seef Mall, Dana Mall and the Bahrain Mall. North Manama is being transformed with the new Financial Harbor, Bahrain World Trade Centre and a few more skyscapers. The airport is in Al Muharraq. You will probably find that all the main roads leading to and in Muharraq are covered with beautiful trees, fountains and greenery.