Harat al Ramel: Ibri’s historical village waiting to be restored to former glory

The walls made of mud and straws are crumbling. The doors to many of the houses remained open as a few of them had fallen to the ground left to decay. In the evening, what was once a bustling village is as silent as an infinite desert.
The homeowners have long departed but many of the former homeowners are looking forward to Harat al Ramel to be restored to its former glory. The houses used to shelter hundreds of people and dozens of family but many of them have moved to sturdier, more comfortable homes far from the village. Nobody can no longer put up with water seeping into their house. That was one of the challenges of a mud house particularly in this part of Ibri in the Al Dhahirah Governorate.
“I lived in one of the mud houses at Harat al Ramel for more than 20 years. But then, I moved to a larger cement house. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t miss our old one. It was where I spend much of my childhood and youth and there are memories there,” shared 70-year old Khalfan al Waili.
This same sentiment was shared by his son Ahmed who only lived in the harat for a shorter time.
“We moved from our old home when I was very young. The concrete houses had offered more convenience for everyone and that’s one of the reasons why lots of the people from the harat moved to new houses,” Ahmed said.
“We left Harat al Ramel because we thought it’s going to be restored and make it a tourist destination. But we’d been waiting long but nothing has happened to this date,” said Salim al Yaqoubi, a former resident.
Nestled strategically at the foot of Mount Ramel in Ibri, Harat al Ramel is said to be hundreds of years old.
In 2004, a Royal Decree (#25) was issued promulgating its development and restoration and make it into a tourism spotlight but the residents in the area lost hope in it ever moving forward.
Global design, engineering and project management consultancy firm Atkins shared on their website that they had been commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism
“to undertake a Feasibility Study for sustainable tourism development of the Harat in the context of the wider historic setting of the town of Ibri and its surrounding region.”
The team “provided concepts for developing the historic village as a heritage-based visitor attraction to help the economic revitalisation of the area and undertook the economic, cultural and social assessment and developed a strategy for conservation of the buildings.”
If realised, “our concept included the provision of conservation facilities, interpretation, museum and information centre, lodge-style accommodation, artisan workshops and a souk. A number of dwellings would also be restored for programmes of traditional re-enactments as well as holiday accommodation,” making it a great addition to the country’s many historical attractions.
Houses in Harat al Ramel were built inspired by Arab and Islamic architecture. Architect Yosif Almoqbali pointed out that the mud houses were built with exquisite architectural designs, the doors decorated with beautiful inscriptions and the ceilings were made of palm trunks embossed with verses and sayings.
“Some of the inscriptions gradually disappeared over the years, and the beautiful roofs fell, and the houses shattered over time. It is unfortunate that this beautiful heritage has been lost and not restored,” he said.
An employee at the Tourism Administration office in Al Dhahirah Governorate, Nasser al Jessasi, shared that while initial studies were made, the reason it has not move forward yet is that it needed quite a large amount to renovate and restore it to its former form.
Sunaidi Al Sheaili, a member of the Municipal Council of Al Dhahirah Governorate shared that they did follow up with the Ministry of Heritage and Culture but were told that there are a few issues that needed to be addressed before any move can be made.
Al Sheaili believed that if the harat is restored, it will contribute greatly to the tourism movement in the area.
“Harat al Ramel has a strategical location sitting right in the city centre. If the harat is restored, it will also revive the economies surrounding it most especially the restaurants that offer traditional food to tourists,” he said.
“We hope that Harat al Ramel will finally be restored as it will definitely become a tourist attraction and will contribute to bringing guests to Ibri spurring economic movements the same way that developments were made in the historic neighbourhoods of Adam and Manah,” Al Jessasi said.
Several of the former residents said they had been waiting for 15 years for changes to happen and confided that many of them already lose hope. They are looking forward to renewed efforts to finally develop one of the country’s historic villages.

BY Alzahra Sunaidi