In 2014, a Ministry of Culture and Heritage initiative saw Nottingham Trent University, from the United Kingdom, conduct research that culminated in a strategic plan for sustainable tourism in Birkat al Mouz, at the foot of the towering Jabal al Akhdhar, based on the historically important Harat al Saybani.
The original research project had the objective of measuring the viability of utilising previously used conservation, restoration and rehabilitation precedents established using the UNESCO World Heritage Site guidance as a measure of its viability. The parameters of particular note that this site met were in its location at the gateway to Jabal al Akhdhar, and already a popular tourist destination with Nizwa Souq also close by, with its ubiquitous weekly livestock market. Its topography also makes it unique as being built on undulating ground, and facing a steep hill slope presents unique architectural and construction challenges, and the falaj that runs directly through the absolute middle of the property is extremely unique, as most were routed around houses, or offset along a wall.
Aside from architectural features, the decorative design and construction of niches, parapets, shafts, benches, hearths, waterways, drip channels and spoutings, arches, lintels, ceilings, walls, doors and windows and stairs are all either different and unique or offer links to other societies, cultures and civilisations that make them all worthy of further research, and of interest to tourists. Urgency was expressed by the research team however, saying, “A wide range of construction, structural and architectural issues arising from neglect, unchecked tourism activity, fluctuating humidity, unchecked weather and bacterial action, pose threats to the property,” urging action.
In addition, the social construction of the local community was identified as a microcosm, or miniature picture, of societal development and enhancement during the last three centuries, and the provision for goat and cattle pens on the ground floor demonstrated an awareness of their benefits to the life of the inhabitants. Further comment was made that “Harat al Saybani,” illustrates the gradual upward social mobility of certain families.” All in all, it was felt that a case for redevelopment of the site could be justified, and similar heritage management evaluations have led to the restoration of such notable refurbishments as the ‘Requene Castle Tower’ in Valencia, Spain; ‘Monacelle Convent,’ Bari, Italy; ‘Knocktopher Friary,’ Knock, Ireland; and ‘The Flour Store,’ Tallin, Estonia.
In the time of the Ya’aribah Imamate, during the late 17th and 18th Centuries, the Bait al Rudaydah Fort at the heart of Birkat al Mouz was first built to provide security over the Falaj al Khatmeen waterway which is fed from the nearby Wadi al Muaydin in the Jabal Akhdhar catchment. Three strategically placed houses were then constructed in the settlement by descendants of the local Al Saqri family to secure the plantations and provide security and stability for its residents, some of whom were coming back from Zanzibar following long trade journeys.
The Sabah al Dakhili Gate provided the main entrance and as such was itself a form of fortress. It’s here that Harat al Saybani was built as the primary residence, and it probably equated, in its heyday, to a family mansion. To the East, Harat al Maqasir appears to have been strongly fortified, with a strategic view of the surrounding area, and the research found that the fourth pillar in the settlement’s ‘defenses,’ Harat al Wadi, also shared many of the characteristics of a souq, and was therefore most likely a trading and marketing location that could be kept secure. Assim al Saqri, a descendant of the original owners is of the opinion that “the main residence, Harat al Saybani, was named after its original builder, as a gesture of thanks and appreciation.”
Then, in 2016, the Omani Government’s Tanfeedh initiative, promoted the diversification of redeveloped properties as tourism accommodation destinations as a form of diversification, and since then, Issa Nasser Said al Saqri has vigorously pursued construction and funding alternatives with the vision of restoring Harat al Saybani to its former glory.
“We need, I think, to prove that there is a community willingness to integrate our history, and the economic realities of today, and be prepared to see tourism as something to be embraced, rather than to remain wary of it,” Issa said, “and if we can do that, and work within government initiatives, to present something special and different to our visitors.” Harat al Saybani, is unique, and is an enthralling reflection of a settlement’s journey.