Spotlight: History meets technology at Harat Al Aqr

The renovation of the old buildings of Harat Alaqr is bringing back life to the old quarters, while electric cars have been introduced to take visitors on a journey to the past. Harat Al Aqr has become a major tourism attraction, as the initiative is a boost to domestic tourism due to travel restrictions in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
Twenty years ago Younis Ali Alanqood dreamt of a project that materialised in last two years. His dream project was guided trips for tourists on electric cars. Two years ago it became a reality, but Covid-19 came as an obstacle for the project.
Younis, however, smiles confidently and says, “I used this crisis as an opportunity and continued with the project. It turned into a blessing in disguise, as people were looking for some recreational opportunities as they were not travelling abroad. Many domestic tourists are coming towards Nizwa and we are happy to receive them.”
Nizwa is just one-and-a-half hours away from Muscat. If anyone has been to the Nizwa Fort and Souq and thinks he has seen it all, is mistaken, as Harat Al Aqr has emerged as an attraction where Younis has four electric cars to take people on a trip to the past. All his cars are busy taking tourists on tour.
In the electric cars, the visitors to Nizwa are taken through a time capsule as they are taken through the ancient lanes and are introduced to important landmarks of history. The journey through Harat Al Aqr started by looking at the Quran School, prominent houses, the library and most importantly the second mosque built in Oman. At certain parts of the journey, Younis stops the vehicle and tells the visitors to walk up to the building while explaining the importance of the structure.
Among the important structures is the Shiwathnah Masjid, the second masjid is built in Oman after the Midhmar Masjid in Samayil.
Younis explained, “Shiwathnah Masjid is built in Al Aqr on the suburb of Nizwa during the era of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) in the seventh year of Al Hijri Calendar.”
According to the information posted at the mosque, “The majlis name is taken from the tribe that was living close to its location called ‘Shathani’. Some books have also referred to this historical masjid as ‘Establishment of Issa bin Abdullah bin Shathan’. The masjid is also called ‘Le Shiwathnah’ and it is at the heart of the suburb.
Many scholars have been associated with it such as Shaikh Abu Abdullah Othman bin Abdullah al Azri, who lived near the house. Al Faqih Al Shaikh Ahmed bin Ibrahim al Aqri, Al Faqih Al Shaikh Abu Ali Al Hassan bin Said and Scholar Ibn Abdulbaqi. Scholars had also conducted classes at this Masjid. The historical mosque was renovated by the then Ministry of Heritage and Culture in 2003.
Today the mosque is also part of the heritage wealth as it is 1,400 years old. Younis is also quick to show you the stories of the built structure and where the wood for the doors came from, “you see this wooden door,” pointing at the door, which also has an Arabic inscription on it. He added. “This wood is called ‘saj’ and was brought from India.” More and more people are investing in the old homes and as per the ministry’s regulations to rehabilitate and convert them into inns and cafes. The lockdown seems not to have affected their spirit of entrepreneurship. And no matter whether it is a weekday or weekend, the electric cars are busy taking the tourists around. The journey concludes with a drive through the traditional market giving the vendors also the opportunity to showcase their products from fruits and vegetables to Omani sweets and pottery and not to forget the fish and cattle markets.