Old Bahla Souq: The value of heritage

MAZIN AL SHUKAILI –

The Bahla Oasis is one of the country’s most important landmarks. It houses the Bahla fort which was listed as a world heritage site on December 9, 1987. But other that the popular fort, the site also includes traditional souqs, ancient lanes, ancient masjid and its 13km-long wall that dates back to pre-Islamic times makes it one of the most interesting attraction to visit in the Sultanate.
The Old Bahla Souq is part of the Bahla Oasis and the souq alone is already a destination that would transport you to time past. Located at the foot of the western slope of the plateau, the souq area covers about 4493 square metres. The souq’s actual measurement is 80 metres in length and 65 metres in width.
The souq includes a collection of 142 shops where products vary from goods, to household items, to herbs and spices and some traditional items.
The souq was originally built with mud bricks but some of its shops were renovated just recently and now are partly made of concrete blocks. These changes distorted a part of its historical value because the Souq speaks of the uniqueness of Omani traditional architecture and the original format offers a glimpse of ancient vitality and dynamism offering an exquisite picture of Omani social life in the past.
According to Sheikh Salim Al Shaksy, “This souq is our cultural heritage. Its history has been passed down from era to era.”
Al Shaksy said that it is important to preserve the area.
Located at the heart of the city’s commercial movement, the souq has long been subject to many renovations dictated by the need to develop market spaces to suite the evolving needs of residents. These changes and upgrades however, were not all for the better.
As has become apparent, the renovations made cause defects not only in style but architecture of the buildings leading to the souq losing parts of its identity and authenticity.
The last few years, the Ministry of Heritage and Culture has taken notice of the critical situation of the Souq which resulted to urgent intervention. The intervention kicked off with the preparation of the necessary studies with the aim of carrying out the restoration work to make sure that the upgrades not only complements the growth of economic movement in the Wilayat of Bahla but that the integrity of this historical site is preserved.
Rashid al Hina, resident of the area, said that such improvements are necessary. He added that the souq has been considered as a tourist destination which is why the improvements most be well studied. He also said that more efforts should be made to promote the souq to a greater number of travelers.
As for Al Shaksy, he said that all well studied restorations will result to the souq to be “immortal for many years.”
“The restoration work being taken by the Ministry of Heritage will improve its look but will also maintain its historical significance,” he added.