The Bin Matar House, or as it is known today, Place of Memory, is a cultural treasure and a snapshot of Bahraini art. The house used to be a residential home that was converted into a museum that houses various sculptures and other artwork that were owned in a private collection by the bin Matar family. The vast majority of the collection pays homage to pearl divers along with actual tools of the trade of the industry. These are the same tools that were pulled from the depths of the sea bringing much wealth to Bahrain.
Although the staccato tapping of pearls on metal sieves has long since dissipated from echoing in the halls of this home, the rich legacy of the Bahraini pearl industry can still be sensed within its walls in an almost tangible feeling. The bin Matar Family, having been one of the most affluent families in all of Bahrain, made it to where they are today with wise business planning and copious amounts of generosity. Although known for the pearl trade that later brought great wealth to the bin Matar family, the family’s first success was with the lumber trade. Salaman bin Matar migrated from Najd Arabia with his brother to do business in Bahrain. Eventually, money earned from the lumber trade diversified allowing them to invest the lucrative trading of pearls in the region.
The house itself was built by the forefather of the bin Matar family in Bahrain, Salman Hussein Bin Matar. The architectural design was done by Mussa bin Mahad who designed it to utilize classic Bahrain stylistic cues and building elements as well as traditional building methods. The house was built in 1905, on then newly reclaimed land which was surrounded by the sea on three sides. Traditional Bahraini materials were used such as palm tree trunks, wooden beams, sea-stones, and gypsum.
Today, the house is a museum which has been greatly refurbished from its abandoned state. The house was inhabited for nearly a whole century from 1905 to 2002. Many years have passed and gone aging the structure considerably. But with the work of diligent restorers and artists, the residential home was brought back to its full glory and prestige. The first floor is an art gallery while the second floor is dedicated to the bin Matar family and the pearl trade.
On the second floor a vast array of different artifacts pertaining to the pearl trade and the brave men who dove to the depths of the sea to retrieve the precious orbs can be found. Everything from the weighing scales and tin sieves to original trade documents from the bin Matar family can be found among the exhibits. It is important to understand how precious pearls were during that time as Bahrain was the only country in the world that forbade cultured pearls. This meant that each and every pearl harvested at the time took skill, bravery, and athleticism from the divers.
Furthermore, pearls were arranged by size using tin sieves as each pearl had differing colors. Finding similarities between different pearls was then considered an art. Sometimes a pearl necklace would take ten years to complete since the jeweler had to find pearls of the same size and color to make it perfect. The talents, effort, sweat, blood, and tears of the workers of the pearl trade is what made each and every piece of jewelry into a work of art. The Place of Memory is then a place for which this tradition is exceedingly honored.