Photos by Abdulaziz Al Alawi
The sprawling city of Sur has been described as the “pearl of the East Coast of Oman” and one of its imposing structures is the Al Ayjah lighthouse that signals those coming from the sea that they are approaching a storied and historic city tracing its origin to nearly hundreds of years.
I stood by this giant structure one day admiring the beauty of Sur from this viewpoint and I can’t help but wonder: What is the historic importance of its location? Why was it necessary? The more I dwell on its beauty, the more I was motivated to find out more about its story.
The location of the lighthouse is strategic. Geographically, its elevation makes it visible from the sea and it alerts ships and naval fleets that they were entering an important old port that has been on the world’s maritime map.
The Al Ayjah lighthouse is based in “Ras Almeel”, which extends on the coast of Sur overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Sea of Oman. Ras Almeel is a local name that means the head of the ship as its shape resembles a ship bow. Ships enter through Khor Al Batah and because of the narrowness of the creek, the lighthouse offers an important help to help navigate the water properly.
In the past, the lighthouse is very different from what we see today. It was simply a structure that is enclosed in a semi-circular wall the “purpose of which was for protection and defence of the entrance of the creek and the surrounding area.”
“The walls also had strategic windows where cannons and riffle nozzles were installed but only three of these cannons remain until today’’, said Ahmed bin Musalam al Alawi, one of the citizens who is familiar with the history of Al Ayjah.
He added, “The perimeter of the lighthouse is locally called “Algilla” which, to the residents mean “the place high off the water.” While the locals call it by that name, this is not known to many people’’, Al Alawi said.
Shaikh Hamood bin Hamed al Ghailani, a historic researcher, said that the simpler protective walls of Algilla used to stand up to 130 cm.
“Some people attribute the building of the lighthouse to the Portuguese but this information is incorrect. During the Portuguese invasion, Al Ayjah is still not inhabited by people’’, he explained.
During the Renaissance in the early 90s and 2000s, the simpler form of Algilla was handed over to the Diwan of Royal Court. At that time, late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, may God have mercy on him, ordered the construction of the lighthouse in 1996, coinciding with His Majesty’s celebration of the National Day in Sur.
During this renovation process, more spaces were added and the designs were refined with the walls properly built and elevated from the sea. That development will eventually lead to the lighthouse structure we see today including the addition of the night beacon. Once the project was completed, it was eventually called Al Ayjah lighthouse.
Today, the lighthouse is consists of three floors and a domed roof. It has inscriptions on the door, which indicate the beautiful traditional Omani architecture.
There are still a lot of things to discover about the Algilla but so far, the things I learned established the long history of the place and the lighthouse. During the night-time, with its flickering light, the lighthouse reminds passers-by that they are in one of Oman’s most beautiful coastal cities — the still growing and mesmerising city of Sur.