My friend used to be a part-time tour guide in his free time and occasionally took visitors to the ruins at Al Hamra, one of the best-preserved old towns in Oman. So when he suggested that we make a trip there, I jumped at the opportunity to be shown around by a seasoned pro.
On the surface, the ruins look like any others, but what makes Al Hamra so unique in my view is the blending of old and new. Most of the ruined houses are deserted, while others are somewhat less so – as I found out firsthand – but more on that later.
Mixed in with the decaying houses made of mud and wood are some slightly newer ones, with electric lights and coils of wire visible from time to time, but these are the only signs that betray an ongoing human presence at Al Hamra.
We were able to freely enter many of the mudbrick huts and climbed the different levels to get a better view of our surroundings. However, what looked relatively stable soon began to feel quite shaky under the weight of two grown men and I decided to keep my feet on the ground from then on. My friend wasn’t deterred, though, and was up and down the ruins as if they had been built yesterday.
From our aerial vantage point, we were able to see evidence of water passing through the village in the smooth stone that formed the pathways, but what I found fascinating was that the houses themselves had been left seemingly unaffected.
Some of the ruins have fallen, but others are still standing tall and proud and I walked through the labyrinthine network of crisscrossing streets for hours, happily lost among the ghosts of the past.
As many will know, Oman is famed for its intricately carved doors and Al Hamra is no different. My favourite was one that was inscribed with calligraphic verses from the Holy Quran.
We’d been following signs for a heritage museum that my friend half remembered from his tour guide days, but it turns out that his senses have dulled a little since then, as we eventually lost our way and couldn’t find the museum no matter how hard we searched.
What we did find though, was a room filled from floor to the ceiling with incredible carvings. I couldn’t decipher the meaning of them, but regardless of this, it was probably the most unique find of the trip and my favourite part of our visit to Al Hamra. At one point we walked into a house close to a group of European tourists, thinking we had finally found the museum we’d been searching for.
My friend hurried over to a bamboo throne to pose for a picture as I greeted the spirits of the house with a traditional saying of peace, as is customary when entering any ruins. No sooner had the words come out of my mouth that we heard commotion and voices from another room. The goosebumps tingled up and down my spine, but I quickly realised we’d stumbled into one of the inhabited dwellings and set about making a sharp exit.
Shortly after this comical mistake, hunger struck and we called off our museum hunt for the day.
Nevertheless, the whole experience was amazing and I would recommend a visit in a heartbeat. Al Hamra made a pleasant change to the beaches and wadis that I’ve explored over recent weeks and I am 100 per cent sure I will return there to choreograph a fashion shoot set among the ghostly ruins in the near future.
Al Hamra is around two hours’ drive from Muscat and easy to find. Take Route 15 to Nizwa and then join Route 21. Turn right at the roundabout before Bahla and Al Hamra should be signposted.
GPS location of Al Hamra ruins: N23º 07’ 14.542” E57º 16’ 59.048”