The inhabitants of Musandam had excelled in transforming the governorate into a place of refuge. Adapting into their environment, they had paid attention to every detail and this can be seen prominently in how they build their houses in a location that is usually very difficult to contend with.
Considering the mountainous terrain and the onslaught of challenging winds, the inhabitants had created unique architecture in construction and design called Bait Al Qifl in Arabic or lock houses in English often distinguished by its design, durability and components.
Zaid al Shehi, an inhabitant of the island, shared, “The Lock Houses” has been a dwelling for hundreds of years, and a haven for people that have protected them from various dangers — whether it’s environmental or climatic challenges or even from marauders and wild animals.
He said that at present, Bait Al Qifl has become an architectural heritage and has established itself among the prominent tourist attractions in the governorate. A model of the house was built in Khasab fort so that tourists and visitors can get to know it up close.
Zaid was one of the workers who helped build Bait Al Qifl. The house contains one room, their walls are formed from huge mountain rocks and neatly stacked gravel. Despite their small area, they accommodate all family members, and they are designed without windows, except for a small hole in the top of the door for ventilation.
Mohammad al Shehi, the owner of one of the houses, said that the process of building the lock house takes about three or four months. Members of society participate in the construction as well. They helped with collecting rocks and timber due to their heavyweight and large size.
He added that the room in the lock house is sloping down two or three feet deep. The size of the door is small and the person has to bend when entering the room. As a result of these specifications, the house aims to be a source of warmth in the harsh winter season, a refuge and shelter for them and their families. The houses were also a storehouse for their food and belongings, like dates, grains, which they were kept inside large containers called “Al Kars” or “Al Khawabi”. They insert the containers before building the roof of each house.
He explained that the lock house has a rectangle shape and different sizes built from the rock available on the site, and the red rock (Safah) is the dominant type in its construction.
At the beginning of the construction process, a hole is dug in the ground to the size of the room. It is intended to be built with a depth of not less than one meter and is cemented with rock and covered with a layer of clay called locally (Al tabar) from the inside.
When the wall reaches the ground level, the thickness of the wall is increased towards the outside to reach more than one and a half metres. As for the other three sides, the thickness of the wall is between one and a half meters, and the wall rises from the surface of the ground by an average of one and a half meters. For the roof, the trunks of Sidr or Sumr trees are used with rocks placed over them. at the ends, rectangular rocks called (array) are placed and covered with leaves of (Sakhbar) trees. this tree is characterised by protecting the house and tree trunks from termites and insects. then it is covered by a layer of Mud (tabar) to protect it from water. Shelves are designed to put their belongings and other supplies.
He pointed out that the door of the lock house can’t be opened by anyone but the owner of the house. A sliding lock is used to lock the door from the inside. From the outside, the owner can lock and unlock the house using a very complicated technique through which he uses what is called (Al Alaq), which is a long piece of metal with a specific curvature. the latch is moved through slots whose number and location are known to the owner of the house only.