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Qalhat - A commercial hub and trade gateway

Scholars have delved into Qalhat's economic, cultural, and political history by examining accounts left by Arab and Persian voyagers who visited this ancient city

The coastal city of Qalhat in South Al Sharqiyah holds the distinction of being the oldest Omani city and the first capital of the Sultanate of Oman prior to the advent of Islam. With its strategic location overlooking the sea, Qalhat's port used to attract ships from all most parts of the world. Vessels from India, Yemen, and those traversing the vital Strait of Hormuz would dock at its port.

Scholars have delved into Qalhat's economic, cultural, and political history by examining accounts left by Arab and Persian voyagers who visited this ancient city. Historical evidence and rock inscriptions have also been documented. For instance, the European traveller Marco Polo wrote in 1292: "This city has an exceptional location, and its port is vast, attracting numerous ships laden with goods. The port is renowned for exporting Arabian horses to India."

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Qalhat conceals buried cities beneath the earth's surface, remnants of a devastating earthquake that razed many of its ancient structures. The remaining evidence you may find represents only a fraction of what the earth engulfed centuries ago.

One of the city's most renowned monuments is the shrine of Bibi Maryam, which is shrouded in numerous historical tales. According to a traditional story passed down by historians, the enigmatic mausoleum dates back to a ruler of Qalhat who purportedly built it for his wife in 1311 BC. While the builders' identities have not been documented, the shrine's architectural style captivates tourists, enticing them to spend more time exploring and experiencing its ancient stones.

Constructed from a blend of mud, stone, and coral reefs, the shrine's unique building materials reflect the geographical environment surrounding it. The shrine also encompasses an underground crypt, showcasing a remarkable engineering design.

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Encompassing an area of 35 hectares, this coastal city is surrounded by mountains on its western side. Remnants of extensive walls stretch to the eastern shore. Historical studies indicate that commercial ships from Hormuz, India, Africa, and China used to dock at Qalhat's port before returning laden with purebred Arabian horses bred in the plains of Qurayat. These horses were highly sought after by the kings of southern India, the sultans of Delhi, and the rulers of Persia, populating their royal stables from antiquity to the Middle Ages.

The ruins of this ancient city are still visible, serving as archaeological evidence affirming its historical significance. The city's strategic location played a pivotal role in establishing its commercial and political prominence in the region. Tombs, walls, and towers constructed from stone and mud constitute the remnants of this historical legacy.

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The hills and mountain slopes surrounding this historic city display traces of burials, graves, and fortifications. To preserve what remains of these tombs and walls, the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism has installed regulations boards emphasising that tampering with these ancient graves is strictly prohibited, and violators will be prosecuted by law.

"Many tourists visit these tombs and touch the ancient walls of the city. Upon arrival, they exhibit expressions of surprise and amazement on their faces. Some find it difficult to believe that they are standing on the remains of an ancient city ravaged by earthquakes. The city's exceptional aesthetic appeal, extending from the lofty mountain heights to the coastline, captivates all tourists," shared a resident of Qalhat with the Observer.

"This ancient city holds numerous secrets and treasures yet to be discovered. However, our concern lies with the urban expansion that has been taking place for years. Currently, there are numerous residential buildings and houses built just a few meters away from the archaeological sites, particularly those situated on the northern hill. We sincerely hope that the competent authorities will assess the current situation and carefully evaluate the anticipated impact of this urban expansion on this unique site," he added.

"At a time when the number of tourists visiting this region is increasing, we kindly request the competent authorities to fence off the archaeological site, which encompasses tombs, towers, and ancient walls, in order to prevent any interference with these burials that authenticate the historical value of this region," he requested.

The ministry is currently undertaking maintenance operations at the archaeological site of "Bibi Maryam," located on one of the city's highest mountain plateaus. Once this operation is completed, it is expected that the site will witness a significant influx of tourists, which will undoubtedly contribute to supporting plans and national strategies for sustainable tourism in the Sultanate of Oman.

In 2018, Unesco included the ancient city of Qalhat in the World Heritage List, marking it as the fifth Omani site to receive this distinction. This announcement further underscores the historical significance and honor bestowed upon this ancient city.

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