Where doors speak ancient tales

Oman is a land of ornamented doors. The flamboyantly painted and decorated doors of houses are a photographer’s delight. In Islamic architecture, the door or gateway to a building is often the most elaborately decorated feature. In Oman’s old houses the wood was usually imported — perhaps teak from India or Zanzibar and Omani carpenters then carved their motifs, often opting for traditional floral patterns of roses.

Many villages in Oman have areas where the abandoned old mud-brick houses. During my recent visit to Sayma, one of the oldest and beautiful villages in Izki, I happened to visit on such house, which accommodated scores of families in the past.
The area is fortified with a main gate on the entrance and small doors and windows on either side to keep a watch on intruders.
And more interesting sight is that the small houses which are uninhibited by Hadhrami families are within the current village centre with newer concrete houses.
With the foundation on the rocky hillock, the walls of the structure are made from mud mixture made into blocks or stones. The lower section of these houses consisted of stone blocks or stones to strengthen the buildings and help against erosion.
But the more attractive parts are the decorative doors for their splendid designs.
“Many of the doors have already been taken away by younger members of the families to make table tops or dining tables”, said Hameed al Hadhrami, whose family stayed their till 1975.
Omani doors have history, they have grace and beauty. They have been lovingly crafted and painted. When doors come off an old house, the building would fall into decay very quickly”, said Hameed, pointing out a door which was still holding the skeletons of a house which was precariously hanging from its roof.
“From time immemorial, doors have been one of the most important forms of decorative expression to be found in Omani buildings”, he said.
Going around the structures, I could find a number of hand-carved doors, which still had fading images like forests or waterfalls, along with stained glass flowers.
“In the past, doors were considered as a status symbol and a sign of hospitality. Doors are often the first thing a guest sees when they are entering your home and you want to make a good impression”, said Hameed.
The amount and quality of the carving was dependent on the price of the door and would therefore reflect the status of the household. While many newer doors are made out of metal, wooden doors still hold value and significance.
Normal household Omani doors were individually hand carved often with the name of the owner cut in attractive Arabic script with geometric floral and other traditional patterns.
While lamenting that modern buildings have a divergence from traditionally popular aesthetic doors, Hameed is happy that old doors are not allowed to decay as their beauty is still preserved in the interior decoration in villas.

Samuel Kutty