Memory of the Place: Bin Matar House
The foundations of the Matar family were laid in Bahrain when founder of the family, Salman Bin Matar, moved to Bahrain from his hometown of Najd, Saudi Arabia, in 1825. His young son Hussain and relative Yehia, as well as their wives and sisters, accompanied him. Settling in the city of Muharraq, the capital at the time, Salman worked in the timber business. Soon after, his son Hussain took over the business and decided to move into the pearling industry.
Hussain’s success in pearling allowed him to purchase large date palms and orchards around the country. His first born, Salman bin Hussain bin Salman bin Matar was born in 1848 and grew up to join his father’s pearling business. He went on to take the business to great heights and became renowned as one of the major pearling merchants of the 19th and 20th centuries in the entire Gulf region. Salman bin Hussain’s abilities and interests however extended further than pearling. In addition to being a pearl connoisseur, he ventured into numerous enterprises such as the trade of wood and dates. He also owned diving vessels, houses, buildings, shops, rooms, coffee houses, and springs. He was also known to be an astute and giving man, and gained the respect of his peers as the doors of his house were always open for those in need, financially or otherwise. His generosity far surpassed his wealth as he offered his wisdom and knowledge to those who sought it. Following in his father’s footsteps, Salman bin Hussein bin Salman Matar also constructed many mosques in Bahrain and abroad. Among the prominent structures he built in Bahrain, the Matar family house was one of them and to this day is a significant building that is still located in its original place in Muharraq.
Once surrounded by water on three-sides, and a terrace that provided a view of the sea, the Bin Matar house was originally constructed in 1905 on reclaimed land in Muharraq. Made in the traditional Bahraini manner, and under the supervision of a master builder of the time, Mussa Bin Hamad, the house was comprised of palm tree trunks, sea-stone, and gypsum. In the early days, the two-storey house served as a majlis for Salman Hussein Bin Mattar in which he would help resolve issues of inheritance, valuation of lands and properties, and disputes amongst individuals. Throughout the years, the ground floor of the house was allowed for other use, but the top floor remained the Matar family’s residence until 2002. Having been left vacant for several years, the house was then undertaken by the Sheikh Ebrahim bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Centre for Culture and Research and restored as part of its ongoing plans to preserve the Kingdom’s traditional architectural heritage, an initiative launched by Her Excellency Sheikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, with Director Melissa Enders-Bahtia. The house, aptly named Memory of the Place – Bin Matar House, represents the cultural identity of Bahraini architecture and design in the way it was built, with high roofs and spacious rooms and a 3-side terrace that looks over the bustling Muharraq town. It also stands proud as a testament to the legacy that the numerous members of the Matar family have kept alive even after vacating its ancestral shelter.
Opened Doors: Inside Bin Matar House
Fully restored and opened in February 2009, the exterior of the double-storey house boasts classic Bahraini architecture with tall columns and traditional-style windows, which have been there since the house was first built. In order to truly preserve the history of the house from inside out, the ceilings have remained as they were, to allow visitors to step back in time and briefly experience what it was like to live in the Bin Matar house. Along with various literature on Salman bin Hussain bin Salman bin Matar, there is a permanent display of the history of pearling in Bahrain and the Matar family on the top floor. The sizeable interior of the bottom floor allows it to host various exhibitions (to Bahrain) and has welcomed the likes of Zaha Hadid, Adam Hanin, and most recently, local Bahraini artist Waheeda Malullah.
On the ground floor, there is also a small café for visitors to sit and enjoy small bites in. The simple yet modern look of the café is a pleasant contrast to the otherwise historic feel of the entire house. Also located on the ground floor is the gift shop, Dukkan, which has various books on the history and heritage of Bahrain as well as the Matar family. Featuring scarves from Annada, herbal products from Green Bar, accessories brand Sukkar, among others; Dukkan also serves as a platform for local designers and businesses to display their products. “It is all related to Bahrain, these products, and that is what we want to preserve, through the younger generation: the culture of Bahrain and at the same time save the heritage of the house”, explained Public Relations Manager and the Program Cultural Manager at the centre, Esmeralda Kabbani.
On the top floor of the house, a glass door leads to the vast terrace with seating areas and gives a grand view of the streets of Muharraq. Esmeralda explains that though there are now buildings on all sides of the house, in the early days the doors of the house opened onto the beach and sea. There is also the Main Office, used by Her Excellency Sheikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa during her official visits to the house, and the informative display on the beginnings of Matar family. A glass display also holds original tools that were used by Matar family members to measure, weigh, drill, and string the pearls. Esmeralda explains the Matar family donated the tools, as well as old documents about Salman bin Hussain Matar. She adds that though there are only a few documents displayed in the exhibit, the house also has a book that contains all the newspaper articles, letters, and achievements of Salman bin Hussain Matar.
A man of unmatched character: honouring Salman bin Hussain bin Salman bin Matar
The details on the display at the Bin Matar reveal a great deal about the admirable figure that Salman bin Matar was. He was a man of many talents whose expertise in pearls resulted in foreign pearl merchants turning to him for advice before purchasing a pearl. He was highly respected by the likes of famous jewellers like Cartier, who even visited him in Bahrain. Additionally, he was greatly interested in agriculture and looked after his orchards and palm groves.
He was known for being one of the wealthiest men at the time, but his status did not deter his kind-hearted and giving nature. His interest in Arabic culture and heritage made him well read in Arabic poetry, particularly in the works of Al Mutenebi. His liberal views and generous nature, not only in terms of aiding those in financial need, but also those who required advice and assistance in personal matters resulted in him being regarded as a man of very high calibre.
Continuing the Matar Legacy: the new generation of Matar family in the pearling industry
With sixth generations of Matar family joining the 150-year old family business, the passion and devotion with which Salman bin Mattar set up the business can be seen throughout the years of development and growth of the Matar Jewelers. By laying a strong foundation for the business in Bahrain and abroad, and passing on strong values from one generation to the next, Salman bin Matar left behind a rich legacy that was further built upon with passion and love for the art of pearling by everyone in the family. This dedication to, and mastery of, the age old craft of pearling has ensured the survival of the business and secured the Matar family a firm place amongst the most prominent pearl jewellers.
The Matar family’s unwavering commitment to the pearling industry for a century and half has made them synonymous with luxury and quality, but more importantly has made them an integral part of Bahrain’s history. From representing the culture and heritage of Bahrain through their house, to enriching the pearling history and industry of Bahrain through their vigour for pearling intertwined with their unfaltering principles set in place by Salman bin Matar, the Matar family is a true representation of Bahraini tradition and history.
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