Photos by Muaid al Siyabi
Rising from a rocky hill, surrounded by palm groves, Al-Sibani village is one of the ancient neighborhoods located in Birkat Al Mouz in Nizwa, Dhakhliya Governorate about 120 km from Muscat.
Belonging to the Ya'ariba period, it is one of the best preserved historical evidence of how the people lived in that era. The construction is made so well that you can't tell where the suburbs begin and the palm groves begin and the village is known to everyone for its soft and lush greenery where houses are almost an archaeological remains.
Inside Al-Sibani village are many different components that can be called as engineering wonders. Many of these features are concentrated along along or near Falaj Al-Khatmeen channel, one of the ancient water channels in the Sultanate of Oman.
The falaj is divided into channels which service the village. The stream also passes through almost every house in the area despite the complex construction of the dwellings that overlaps, sometimes almost a maze as you won't be able to tell where one entrance is and where the upper levels are.
The construction is unique in mountainous villages emphasizing the depth of social ties between people, not to mention that most of the houses consist of two floors. The roofs of these houses are decorated with colourful inscriptions, giving the viewer beauty. But unfortunately, many of the roofs of those houses had already fallen apart.
The housing in Al-Sibani follows the common housing pattern in Al-Dakhiliyah Governorate, as it contains barns and common storage areas for dates, in addition to storages inside each house. There are also corridors and halls to receive guests. The upper floor contains bedrooms and halls for women, which is usually a room wide, called locally “liwan”.
The fine effects of the village show evidence of the unique expansion of the neighborhood, as it branches out on the sides of the top of the hill. The houses extend vertically from the bottom to the top. When a visitor reaches the upper houses at the top of the mountainside, palm groves are visible before his eyes as he sees the village at the bottom of the lane as a green carpet. This expansion gave an artistic color to the engineering configuration of the streets, corridors and open spaces inside village which is expanded from both directions. The slope of the hill is most likely the result of the creation of two canals for the Khatmeen Falaj, which eventually prompted the residents of the neighborhood to build towards palm plantations.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth has already studied the village which is considered a world archaeological landmark along with Falaj Al-Khatmeen. According to the stone plaque installed at the drain of the Falaj, the data contained therein confirm that Falaj Al-Khatmeen was included in the World Heritage Register on July 16, 2006, and it is one of the five listed aflaj in the world heritage. Thus, Al-Sibani neighborhood goes within the world archaeological arena.
The data published by the Ministry in a book about the archaeological Al-Sibani village indicated that the neighborhood is a model of the development of villages in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, coinciding with the rebuilding of several population centers at that time, such as the two villages of Hamra in the Wilayat of Al-Hamra, and Yemen in willayat of Izki.
These places refer to the development methods used during the Ya’ariba era, which were affected by the movement of the acquisition of authority for the tribal groups. As for the latest historical developments in the fifties of the twentieth century, they left a tangible impact on the neighbourhood, and shed light on its position in Omani history.
The social and political history of the village shows the complexity of life and the patience of the residents. The great diversity in majlis rooms - from semi-private to public - indicates the different opinions of people and their perceptions about human society and community activities, which is a unique feature of the population centers in Al-Dakhiliyah.
This village is distinguished by the rocky stairs that lead the visitor to the highest peak in it, drawing the houses in a pyramidal shape. People used mud and stone to build houses, and some of them used plaster and burnt clay; locally called (sarooj).
Despite the crowding of houses that seem to have small spaces, people tried to give roughness of the stone an aesthetic touch, through the engraving on the ceilings, so that some rooms look elegant, delighting the eye in their sides. Although people abandoned the neighborhood’s homes and built modern houses on the outskirts of the village, the Falaj waterwheel still supplies water to the suburbs hidden behind, as a lifeline that supplies water and growth to the place.