Bahla’s potters keep the wheels spinning

Bahla, an old dainty town located in the Al Dakhiliyah Governorate in the north-east region of the Sultanate today holds pride as the hub of pottery in the country. Rightly so, Bahla has been established as a world heritage site by Unesco for its old fortresses and significance in the culture and heritage of Oman.
After the invention of the pottery wheel, Oman experienced a milestone leap influencing years of progress and development and creating the stepping stones to the beautiful country we know today. The Sultanate of Oman boasts of a unique culture with rich traditions, and the art of pottery has been an intricate part of country’s identity for over 4,000 years.
There was a time where most families in the Bahla region were involved in the pottery making and trading but with progress and modernity came mass produced and easily available alternatives to the traditional pots.
Today, the pottery trade is dwindling with few establishments and families working hard against the changing gears of progress, to keep this important part of history alive. In Old Oman, everyday household goods were not only sourced from the are abut made with natural products, especially clay.
Today, pottery has become a novelty, often used as decorative pieces in homes, restaurants, and gardens to recreate an Omani aesthetic or as gifts and mementos for tourists to take back from local markets and souqs.
Bahla as always, is the hub of pottery and home to hundreds of potters for generations along with being a leader in the cottage industries. As the knowledge of the famous clay pots of Bahla spread across the trade routes, demands increased and the industry boomed. Backyard businesses increased production to soon become a thriving industries that supported the economy of this then budding nation.
The clay used to produce these pots come from the wadi floors from the surrounding regions and are rich in red clay giving it its distinct colour and special qualities. Traditionally, once the clay was collected, it would be left in shallow troughs or pits with nets to separate larger debris like leaves, twigs and stones from the valuable red clay. This resulted in the clay separating and the excess water easily removable. The crafters would then trample upon the now doughy clay to make it malleable enough for the potters to mould the dough into pots, plates and other goods.
Today, although rare, it isn’t impossible to find men sitting at a spinning wheel, turning globs of mud into artsy yet useful commodities. A potter working at the wheel is a view one can never forget, to those who are lucky enough to have this opportunity can agree that watching a potter working his magic is no short of watching a painter finish a painting. One can spend hours, mesmerised by the soft strokes and gentle hand movements and seeing the emerging pots taking shape. It is an almost hypnotic experience.
Once completed, the pot is left to dry in the sun before it is put into a huge kiln where it is heated to bake and then gently cooled to reveal the final result.
Initially, Bahla was known for its dome-shaped ovens that could be anything from a small 1metre wide kiln to those multi-level structures that although traditional, for usually used for more commercial purposes.
The common artefacts that are still produced are urns, large bows, special halwa containers, incense burners and coffee pots. These can be found in abundance throughout the country but mostly originate from the region, traditional shops, specialty shops, museums and private sellers are the easiest way to buy these products.
With the changing tides and increased interest in boosting local markets and SME’s, youth have taken an interest in going back to their traditional roots and bringing back the glory of the Bahla pots.
Supporting this is a small pottery works and training institution that was developed and is supported by the government of Oman. With the help of international experts and technologies, a movement has been started to re-establish Bahla as the pottery capital.
Although Bahla is famous for its magnificent fortresses and fables about genies and medieval alchemy, pottery is being reintroduced into the mix. In the local Bahla souq which sits under the shade of a huge tree, visible are the products made with the magical and exquisite handy works of some of Oman’s best craftsmen — the potters of Bahla.