La Maison Jamsheer
BY ANAAM IKRAM
Having served as Bahrain’s former capital, the city of Muharraq is known for being home to the beginnings of the Kingdom’s heritage. From the famous pearling route to the Shaikh Ebrahim Centre dedicated to preserving the houses and stories of the founding fathers of Bahrain, a trip down any road in Muharraq is a tour through various aspects of Bahrain’s history and its evolution into modernity while holding its cultural values and identity close. Today, Muharraq is also home to Bahrain International Airport as well as the famous Muharraq souq, amongst many other well-known landmarks that further cement the city’s stature as one of the historically rich regions in the Kingdom. Amongst the energetic backdrop of the Muharraq is the hidden gem of La Maison Jamsheer, the previous home of the Jamsheer family transformed into the Bahraini-French cultural centre. Located on the opposite side of the Shaikh Ebrahim Cultural Centre, La Maison Jamsheer is a house that not only comes with an exciting history of its own, but has also been able to strengthen the bonds between Bahrain and France and has proven to be a home away from home for the French community in the Kingdom. Hosting a variety of events, classes, and special occasions, La Maison Jamsheer brings to life Bahrain’s heritage in an exciting manner and invites everyone to join. Perle Magazine spoke to members of the Jamsheer family as well as Violette Cadars and Sophie Delobette, from Alliance Française about the history of the house and how it is a vital part of the Bahraini-French relationships today.
The house was built in the late 1800s and was bought by the late Saleh Mohammed Jamsheer from Salman Mattar in the early 1900s, and thus began the legacy of La Masion Jamsheer. Saleh Jamsheer and his family of about 15 members resided in the house till the mid-70s, by when the children had grown up and moved away. “At that time it looked like such a big house, even with that many people living in there”, says Adel Jamsheer, son of Saleh Jamsheer and now owner of the house. “If it was not for the parking, I think we would still be living in the house!” he exclaims, and adds that La Maison Jamsheer is a representation of how people used to live in the olden days when modern technology was not available, but still proved to live a merry life.
Describing the two-storey house, Adel nostalgically elaborates that the house was constructed to work with the different kinds of weather; the top floor was used to keep cool throughout the summer heat, whereas the bottom floor rooms were designed to keep warm during the winter. The veranda in the centre of the house with rooms all around also made the house seem spacious and allowed the flow of air through the house, while a parting as soon as one entered the house was constructed to still provide privacy. The ground floor of the house has thicker walls made out of gypsum and lower ceiling that retain the heat and thus made it ideal for the cool winter. The kitchen, guest room, master and a room for the boys, and a room for the girls were all situated in on the ground floor; although the kitchen still remains the same to this day, the rooms have been converted into show space for the permanent exhibition of the Gold Thread – a connection between Bahrain and France – and the guest room has been turned into the Shaikh Ebrahim room, which is used as a study area for when Arabic, French, and Chinese classes take place in the house. The distinct features of the house include keeping most of the original structure as well as some original artefacts from when the Jamsheer family used to live there, like the vintage red phone hung on the wall, which was once used by the family.
A wooden blue door open to the stairs that lead up to the spacious terrace and the top floor, which has two spacious rooms, a shaded area for lounging outdoors in good weather, and two interconnected rooms, and the walls connected to the neighbouring houses. The bigger room, which was used by the family to stay in the summer, was engineered in a manner that catered to cooling the room even during the hot weather. With high ceilings made of bamboo and the walls made of coral and covered with gypsum – using only heat insulated materials and no steel to prevent the heat from coming through, and the sharp slopes on the top side of the ceilings were designed to allow the water to slide off during the rain. Along with the combination of sea stones, gypsum, and high ceilings, the windows of the room are also almost floor-to-ceiling, and facing the North and when they were opened, a nice breeze would flow through the rooms. The house also boasts another unique feature, which is the built-in wall cavities that allow for the air flow as well keeping the rooms and the top floor cool at all times. The smaller room, also known as the “wedding room”, decorated with stained glass mirrors on the wall, and was typically given to the new bride and groom to stay for a week or 10 days. It was also a room for the children to play in when it was not being used.
The vast terrace was a playground for the children in the day, a study space for when exams approached, or a place for the women to gather in the mornings or afternoon for tea and a chat. “We were more like a family in the neighbourhood with the different families that lived there – Showaiter, Bin Ameen, and Abdulmalik, to name a few”, Adel explains. Having spent the better half of his youth in La Maison Jamsheer, Adel says they were never worried about leaving the doors unlocked during the day or even at night, they used the house as a wedding location, and the children from the neighbourhood would all walk to school together and back – relations that formed a strong and close-knit community.
As time went on and the Jamsheer family members grew older, their lives took them out of La Maison Jamsheer and onto their own routes, and the house that was once full of Jamsheer family was left with memories of its members and put up for rent. Putting up the house for rent, lead to La Maison Jamsheer embarking on a new journey leading to eventually becoming a Centre Culturel Franco-Bahreïnien. Initially, the house was rented for an archaeological exhibition organised with the French Embassy and French archaeologist Dr. Pierre Lombart, explains Sophie, following which it was rented to a former director of BNP Paribas and his affection towards the house lead to the French community and Alliance Française formed a deeper relationship with La Maison Jamsheer. His connections and Alliance Française’s interest in revamping the house to give the house a specific and strong orientation as an added value by focusing on four fields in which the French knowledge and experience are recognised worldwide: archaeology, heritage protection, architecture and urbanism. The house that was once regarded as a structure for living and sharing life in, has been successfully converted into a symbol of heritage of the old city of Muharraq. The house now offers various exhibitions on art, architecture or heritage, as well as providing a location for lectures delivered by experts invited by one of the partners, documentation and information, residence for experts or postgraduate students concerned by these topics. The house was host to temporary exhibitions by Tiny Home Jewellery and Yallah Habibi, as well as showcasing the work of artists that have showcased their work in the house. “We have interesting projects and work, and if it can be related to local activities or artists, it gives the local talent a platform to showcase their work and to strengthen the link between the French and Francophone community with local Bahrainis”, Violette adds. La Maison Jamsheer also hosted a live band music concert to celebrate the French La Fête de la Musique, and hosted the Le Club de la Photographie. Sophie explains at the house they try to have both incorporate both France and Bahrain to always keep strengthening the relations, and Violette adds that it also – in a way – represents the interesting contrast in tradition and modernity of the two cultures.
The house, which was renovated last year, now boasts a casual sitting area in the bottom floor (where the main rooms once were) with a projector screen playing a video of the permanent exhibition by Sophie on the link between Bahrain and France through the gold thread, commonly used in the Kuraar embroidery. The thread, which originated from Lyon, was brought to Bahrain by a Bahraini embroider Salah (of the Zari Shop in Yateem Centre), there is also a room dedicated to sharing the story and heritage of how Lyon was also the origin of silk and its importance to France. The tools for making the Kuraar embroidery, and even the showcases, were given by Shaikha Mai Mohammed Al Khalifa to the house, as well as accompanying images to complete the exhibition created by Sophie. The idea of the exhibition, Sophie explains, was from the Alliance Française who had the mission to find the link between Bahrain and France and promote it. Although the pearl would have been the more obvious choice, Sophie’s extensive research and dedication to the exhibition lead her to finding a different connection from the past, and bringing it to life through her efforts.
Adel Jamsheer’s old room is also used as the guest room for when visitors come to stay. The rooms on the top floor are also almost like how they when the Jamsheer family resided in the house, except, Adel says, the way the terrace was designed back then is different to how it is now, but accommodates still the same number of people if not more.
For those who are interested in visiting the house and learning about the history room by room, rather than the orthodox way of reading the information on the walls, they are taken on the digital tour narrated by Adel Jamsheer himself. His first-hand account builds a clear picture of their days in the house and reflects the simple lifestyle. La Maison Jamsheer, which also falls under the initiative taken by Shaikha Mai to restore the houses along the Pearl Route and is sponsored by the Shaikh Ebrahim Centre, is the first house to be completely digital and allows the visitor to genuinely experience the lifestyle of the days gone by.
Mohammed Jamsheer, son of Adel Jamsheer and responsible for La Maison Jamsheer’s brand, says there is a lot they would like to do for the house in order to further enhance the experience of the visitors. From looking into building a small library, redoing the kitchen and turning it into a small café for small bites or coffee, as well as redoing the guest rooms for a more comfortable stay at La Maison Jamsheer. “It [the passion] stems from my father because he is extremely passionate about the house and he has made me passionate about it…the Jamsheer family comes from across Muharraq, from all different parts, but our specific family comes from that house and it grounds us when we think back to where we started”, Mohammed says, and adds that the reason his family still has very strong bonds with their own family members other families that used to live in their area of Freej Banaain is due to that house. Adel adds that the house is a representation that though in the olden days people did not have modern-day technology or the facilities available today, they still very happy and were able to make the best of their resources, rather than people assuming that in historical times people lived in run-down houses. “It is not just to come and look at the house, people who visit can actually learn something about how people used to live in this part of the world [GCC] and I think that is very important.”
Working on various ways to revive the history of the house again, both Alliance Française and the Jamsheer family have been working closely to make La Maison Jamsheer a creative space for artists to come and showcase their work on regular basis. Already having hosted a spectacular dinner to launch the new brand of La Maison Jamsheer, Mohammed – who was in charge of the event – explains the event was not only to offer a glimpse of the excellent vicinity of the house but also displayed its capacity as an intimate venue for special occasions. Adel Jamsheer emphasises that children should be taken to such sites from a younger age so they can understand the history of Bahrain and how it has evolved over the years into the present. “The houses”, Mohammed says, “give you the opportunity to be taken back in time. When traditional houses are restored to be more vibrant, it becomes easier to connect them to today’s lifestyle and atmosphere, this allows people to relate with the house on a different level. These houses are now being preserved in a way that you can actually imagine yourself living in them.”
From bringing together elements of the past and present together, to working towards enhancing its future, La Maison Jamsheer is an entity that represents multiple aspects of Bahrain and its culture within its gypsum and sea-stone walls. Whether it is highlighting the life of the past, or giving the present generation a platform to make and share the facets of their life today, La Maison Jamsheer is an eminent part of the Kingdom’s inheritance and will always continue to serve as an important part in its story.
For more information:
Muharraq, close to the Shaikh Ebrahim Cultural Centre
(00973) 1734 2682
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