Oman is filled with ruins that transport you to the bygone era. To walk the old, dilapidated paths is like living the ancient life. Entering these ruins, the smell also creates a powerful image in your head of the hows and whys of the lifestyle of the people who used to live in these ruins and as such it’s like conjuring the ghost of the past to pave the way for a better understanding of the beauty and richness of Oman’s heritage.
In some places, it is easy to see how far many of the Omanis have come when it comes to their way of living. In Birkat al Mouz for instance, standing in one of its abandoned towers, one will see the divide between the old and the new. Many of the modern Omanis are now living in comfortable, well-built houses filled with technology. The architecture, while borrowing the basics of their ancestors are also beginning to be influenced by modern thinking.
But the ruins all over Oman are beginning to get a new lease of life. Many of the historical forts and towers had been fully renovated and has become amazing tourist attractions.
In the Wilayat of Nizwa, the village of Birkat al Mouz is currently home to one of the popular village ruins in Oman.
Bait al Sabah, as we call it today, is one of the thousands of houses that were built in the past now renovated to serve a higher purpose — to educate guests about the way of life of the ancient Omanis.
Abdullah al Saqri, the founder of Bait al Sabah, had many ambitions for the place. For example, knowing the effort being exerted by Oman towards attracting more tourists, has decided to convert the ruin into a heritage inn where people can stay.
The renovations not only bring to life a cafe equipped with some of the best coffee-making technology, the Al Sibani lane which dates back to the twelfth century AH, in the sixteenth AD, the beginning of the era of Al Ya’aribah state, specifically during the time of Imam Sultan bin Saif I, the second Imam of the Al Ya’aribah was also further developed.
Abdullah said, “The reason for wanting to invest in this house is because it is our grandfather’s home. We wanted to maintain the legacy of Saeed bin Sulaiman al Saqri and this old house built with mud dates back to about 200 years. That’s a long history we cannot just waste.”
Working with close relatives and other community members, Sulaiman delegated Issa Nasir Saeed al Saqri to take the lead in repairing this ancient house.
“This house is very strategic and is one of the best places to see the old ruins of Birkat al Mouz and the surrounding area. Located above the entrance of the village, people call it ‘Al Sabah al Garbi’ — which does justice to it being the entrance to history,” Abdullah said.
“One of our goals for restoring the house is to revive the area, invite more footfall and make it a heritage and tourist landmark that attracts foreign and domestic visitors,” he added.
While entering the house, the first attraction comes through the form of the falaj — the reason why the area became a thriving community. The water runs underneath the building and irrigates the nearby fields. Because of the healthy flow of water, three rooms were also built below the house called “Al Majazah.” These private rooms are used for showering especially by women.
Taking the stairs to the first floor, the cafe welcomes the guests. While the main cafe area where the coffee is made is enclosed in glass, there is a sitting area that looks into the farms.
“After completing the renovations of the house, we realised that this level offers a beautiful view of the Al Sibani lane and the rooftops of ancient houses. It’s the reason why we pushed for the coffee shop to be built here,” Abdullah explained.
Abdulrahman al Saqri is currently the head Barista of the “Qahwat Al Sabah” cafe, and as a young Omani, he wanted to concoct drinks that will be notable to guests coming for a visit.
For Abdullah and the rest of the team overseeing Bait al Sabah, there’s still a lot that needed to be done to fully bring traffic to the place and make it an ideal destination worthy of a visit.
“Other than developing the houses, these heritage places also need to be properly lit especially the streets. This is why we are looking up to the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism to deliver on this aspect,” he said.
Abdullah also looks forward to upgrading the outdoor facilities, adding additional parking, creating a museum and library so that everyone can enjoy the place.
Abdullah believes that for any project like the one he started, it takes the full support of the community to make it a success. Bait al Sabah, with its long history, can live longer if proper government support and manpower will be extended into their effort. He said for the meantime, he is willing to make the changes brick by brick to make sure that not only is history preserved but that the story of the area is passed on to all the guests that come and visit.