Monday, May 23, 2022 | Shawwal 21, 1443 H
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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Doors open to rich legacy of architecture

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The ancient buildings of Oman narrate political, social and architectural history of the Sultanate. What distinguishes these old residential neighborhoods is their architectural style, which is built with mud, stones and stucco. Wooden doors and windows play a major role in adding an exceptional aesthetic to these clusters or Harat. The vintage doors and windows that decorate homes, forts, castles, mosques and traditional markets attract tourists and lovers of architectural heritage from across the world.


Those who visit these premises find crumbing columns, arches, walls and ceilings and worn-out doors and windows with residents long migrated to buildings in towns and cities with modern amenities. But we cannot leave this cultural legacy fall prey to the elements and rodents.


Some of the doors that stood the test of time are rich in decorations and carvings.



The doors of the main entrances to these districts and their forts, castles and mosques are designed in based on the social conditions prevailed during the historical periods that span hundreds of years.



Across the centuries, the Sultanate has witnessed many political conflicts and social changes. The main gates and doors that decorate the façades of these old towns are distinguished by the presence of a smaller door that measures approximately half of a person's height. These smaller gates and doors allowed entry and exit for individuals, as permitted by the guardian of the lane, home, or fortress. This type of door is also one of the methods that were used during that era to tighten the guard and defend the forts and castles from surprise attacks.


Some of the doors have two knockers; small one for women and big for men. If a woman raps the door with the smaller ring, the lady of the house opens the door for her. If it is big knock the man of the house opens the door for the guest. This method is prevalent in some old neighborhoods of some Islamic countries, including Turkey.


According to the historical sources, the wood of these doors and windows was imported mainly from India and East Africa. This is proof of Oman’s trade ties ties with these countries.



Abdulrahman al Salimi and Heinz Gaube Lorenz Korn in their book “Islamic Art in Oman” mention that “many of vegetal decorations of doors and frames give the impression of eastern origin. It is not farfetched to assume that many of these doors were ready made and imported from India or countries east of India. There decoration had an impact on the style of Omani woodcarvers, as can be seen in the workshop of Sur, where doors with rich vegetal ornamentation, which cannot be found in other parts of the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Iran, Egypt or Syria originate. These vegetal decorations, which we also find on Zanzibari doors, witness the close link of costal Oman to India and the countries east of it”.


Teak is the most popular type of wood used for these doors and windows. Teak is strong wood that can withstand heat, humidity and various climatic changes for long time. It is also resistant to termites, which destroy other types of woods. Omanis often used fish oils to coat imported wood to ensure durability of wood.


Most of the wooden doors in these districts are distinguished inscriptions that are rarely found elsewhere. Each door has its own identity. The doors of the homes of educated families are engraved with Holy Quran verses, literary, poetic phrases, and greetings. It also mentions the dates of construction of these homes.


They also feature drawings of palm trees, flowers and leaves, It also includes some doors studded with interlocking bronze nails.


There are more than 1,000 old districts and 500 castles and fortresses in the Sultanate. Some of them date back to the pre-Islamic era. Some of them are listed in the World Heritage List of UNESCO.


Although most of these Harats have long suffered from neglect after their residents left them, it is heartening to note that in recent years a number of Omanis took the initiative to restore some of the houses in the old quarters for the future generations and to attract tourists.


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