Oman’s archaeological treasures have meant the Sultanate punches well above its weight on the UNESCO World Heritage List, as Swati Basu Das reports.
Besides owing much to its natural beauty, the Sultanate is also a cultural heartland soaked in the legacy of ancient times. The ethnicity of the land lies in its maritime traditions and historical buildings.
Every region of Oman reflects the purity of life as it used to be lived. The cities of Nizwa, Bahla, Ibri, Qalhat, Sur and many more enthusiastically foster Omani tradition. The archetypal Islamic architecture, historical artefacts or the wooden dhows that sail through the azure ocean all offer a taste of our country’s heritage.
The archaeological treasures of Oman defiantly stand the test of time, are continually restored and preserved, and thoroughly merit their inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
A two-hour drive from Muscat on the way to Sur, Qalhat lies on the eastern coastline of the Sultanate. A major functional port, Qalhat dates back to the 11th century and bore witness to trade links between Africa and Asia. Having flourished during the rule of Princes of Hormuz, the ancient city of Qalhat traded Arabian horses, dates and pearls until the 16th century. Its inner and outer walls demarcate the entire town. This archaeological site features the Bibi Maryam Mausoleum, which was built by Bahauddin Ayez to honour his wife Bibi Maryam. The site has lain abandoned since the 16th century. Further excavation has revealed a detailed sketch of an intra-muros cistern, and this also represents the old ways of life and trade.
The conventional system of irrigation, aflaj, is a sophisticated ancient water distribution system that reflects the simple law of gravity. Dating back to 500 CE, a falaj (the singular of aflaj) would be dug in the earth, and the water flowing through it would find its source through the underground geo-thermal spring. The occasional rainwater further fills it. These narrow mud-walled channels run across wadis, farms and local streets; all supplying water to the lush green farms of Oman to irrigate date and banana plantations. These water tunnels carry water from the mother well (Umm al falaj) to nearby farms. They are then split into two types depending on the source of water, its depth and length. The dawoodi aflaj is a long underground channel that goes as deep as ten metres and runs for several kilometres. The aflaj sources its water from the underground geothermal springs, and carries both hot spring water and fresh drinking water.
Falaj Daris and Falaj Al Khatmayn (in Nizwa), Falaj al Jeela (Sur), Falaj Al Mayassar (Al Rustaq) and Falaj Al Malki (in Izki is named after Malik Bin Faham Al Uzdi) are the five aflaj listed under UNESCO heritage sites.
Built by the famous Banu Nehban tribe, which once dominated the town between 12th to 15th centuries, the enormous Bahla Fort is a classic fortification. Located at the foothills of Jebel Al Akhdar, it is one of Oman’s oldest and the most significant forts. The fort includes many towers, a mosque, and wells that served as water reservoirs. The oldest part of the fort Al Qabasah is five storeys high. It holds a cultural significance to the land with its defensive architecture, while offering a panoramic view to visitors.
The Frankincense Trail or the Land of Frankincense in Salalah is the site along the Incense Road in Oman. The heritage route to the Frankincense Land covers the whole area of Ubar, Wadi Dawkah to Khor Rori (Baleed port). Wadi Dawkah is famous for the frankincense tree park. The resins leaking out of the tree bark solidifies, spreading an intense smell of frankincense far and wide. One of the best-kept treasures of Oman, the frankincense trade was one of the essential trading commodities in medieval and ancient times, which helped to grow the economy.
The archaeological complex of Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn displays settlements and necropolises from the 3rd millennium BCE. This prehistoric site consists of monumental towers, rural settlements, irrigation systems and necropolises. The ‘beehive’ tombs of Bat are either single- and multi-chambered, round in shape, and were built nearly 4000 to 500 years ago. The site stands on the fossilised Bronze Age terrain, making it a unique cultural relic.