Seven new sites in the Sultanate are bidding to be added to Unesco’s World Heritage List. Can they make the grade? Ghada al Harthy and Kate Ginn report
The country is blessed with amazing locations and we want the world to know about them.
As part of its push to become an internationally recognised tourism destination, Oman is hoping to get seven more locations listed as world class on the Unesco Heritage List. The list documents places, such as forests, deserts, monuments or buildings, which are classed as being of special cultural or physical significance. Wonders such as Egypt’s pyramids, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Petra in Jordan are already included on the list.
The Sultanate already has four named on the list – the Aflaj irrigation system, Bat, Al Khutm and Al Ayn archaeological sites, Bahla Fort and the Land of Frankincense. A fifth, the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Al Wusta, was removed from the list in 2007 after being deemed unsuitable to continue being included.
Now seven have put been put forward – two under the cultural category, four under the natural segment and one on the mixed list.
Sultan al Bakri, director of the Department of Excavation and Archaeological Studies at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, said: “The process has begun and they have been put on the tentative list.
“We hope that in the near future these sites are moved to the Unesco list.”
Here, Y gives a lowdown on the seven Omani sites bidding for Unesco status and the four that have already got it.
The ancient city of Qalhat is located just over 20km north of Sur, in the Ash Sharqiyah Region. It is one of the historical sites in Oman that has been visited by many explorers. Marco Polo visited Qalhat in the 13th century and highlighted the importance of its port as a connecting point between India and the interior areas of Oman. Qalhat later gained fame for exporting Arabian horses to India in huge numbers. Moreover, Ibn Battuta mentioned in his book that Qalhat has “very good markets” with a wonderful mosque built similar to Spanish designs. At the end of the 14th century, an earthquake wrought destruction on Qalhat leaving it in ruins. Qalhat has been listed as an outstanding example for an early typical city-port. There is no other harbour site on the Arabian Peninsula where remains of the 13th-15th century can be comprehensively studied.
Both prehistoric settlements
Bisya: Situated in Wadi Bahla, a group of British archeologists discovered five towers from the Bronze Age during the 1970s. They also found some spears and remains of oasis settlements – known as Hajar Oasis Towns. The extensive site covers some 100 square kilometres and also includes beehive tombs. Bisya is said to feature the earliest known use of the falaj system.
Salut: Located on a small plateau in Bahla. Some explorers found items dating back to the Iron Age. It was the site of a decisive battle between Malik Bin Faham and the Persian colony that resulted in Oman’s freedom from Persian dominance in the 1st century. Falaj Salut, currently dry, previously served the settlement.
The only inhabited isle of the Khuriya Muriya Islands, which are located off the southeastern coast of Oman. It’s the biggest island of the five, with an area of 56 square kilometres and a population of about150. Barren except for some patches of grass and Tamarix trees, it is home to a variety of birds, goats, fish and extraordinary turtles.
It may be a long 500km trek from Muscat, but it’s worth it to see the stunning white sandy beaches, mangroves and wildlife at Bar al Hikman on the east coast of Oman. The peninsula is considered one of the most important bird migration stations in Southeast Asia. As well as a sanctuary for birds and fish of all kinds, it also attracts human visitors, with beautiful coral reefs making it a favourite destination for divers.
One of the highest mountains in the GCC, it’s 2,100m high and shapes the eastern part of Dhofar’s mountain range. The rare Arabian leopard and Dhofar white-toothed shrew, both endangered species, can be found here. The steep cliffs are also ideal breeding sites for a number of rare species of birds. Arabian gazelle, striped hyenas, wild cats and even wolves can also be found there.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, the Al Dimaniyat Islands sanctuary, located between Al Seeb and Barka, contains nine islands. It has a huge number of coral reefs and was internationally recognised in 1984 because it is located within the project of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a fascinating place for diving, with more than 100 species of reefs. A huge number of birds migrate to the islands and many turtles use the islands as a breeding ground as well.
Ras al Hadd: One of the first areas in the Sultanate to be greeted with the sun’s rays in the morning, Ras al Hadd has global importance due to its sea turtle reserve, which attracts up to 13,000 egg-laying turtles annually, including the Green Turtle. It was announced as a natural sanctuary on April 23, 1996.
Ras al Jinz: What makes this sanctuary unique is that its sand is perfect for laying eggs. Ras al Jinz, which means “Circle of Life”, is the largest turtle sanctuary in the world. Last year, 56,000 turtles made their way to the beach, many returning year after year. The reserve was established by Royal Decree in 1997.
There have only ever been two delistings – Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary(2007) and Dresden Elbe Valley (2009), due to the building of a four-lane bridge in the heart of the cultural landscape.
The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Al Wusta Governorate was announced as the first natural sanctuary in Oman in 1994. In the same year, it was selected to be included on Unesco’s World Heritage List. However, it was removed from the list in 2007 because of the illegal hunting of the animal. In 1996, the number of the Arabian Oryx was 450, since then it has decreased to just 65 (appoximately). The size of the sanctuary had also been reduced to make way for oil and gas exploration. These two reasons meant the Oryx sanctuary was the first site in the world to be removed from the Unesco list.
The list covers a diverse range of places, locations, buildings and areas. It includes: