Houses of mud and stones are without roofs, coloured doors are closed, decorated columns and arches are collapsed, narrow alleys are stinking and full of waste. This is the case of the ancient districts (locally are called Harats) in the Wilayat of Adam lies about 225 km from Muscat. The name of Adam is attributed to its fertile land. Omani Geographical sources indicate that Wilayat of Adam, although located in the heart of the desert is a fertile agricultural oasis, and people flock to it from all sides.
Adam is comprised 45 villages. Majority of these villages still preserve their old lifestyle. Harat al Rahba, Harat bani Shaiban, Harat al Hawashim, Harat al Ain and Harat bani Waeil reflect the authenticity of Omani architectural style and excellent skills.
These ancient structures are characterized by meticulous engineering design. Some of these quarters are reported to date from the pre-Islamic period. Harat bani Shaiban, for example, which is located in the eastern part of Wilayat of Adam, comprises around 70 houses and it has three-storey high circled towers and three mosques. This district was the trading centre between Oman and many nearby countries.
Harat al Hawashim is designed in a circular shape. It has two main gates and two towers. The site also has a small school where locals can learn the essential concepts of the Holy Quran.
Harat al Rahba, Harat al Ain, Harat al Majabrah, Harat Mbereez are constructed in two or three stories. They have narrow alleys, and the roofs of their houses and mosques are decorated with colourful inscriptions. The front doors are decorated with exquisite geometric patterns.
Harat al Busaid is ranked one of the oldest lanes in Adam where the founder (Ahmed bin Said) of al Busaidi was born. This area has around 120 old houses and protected by 6 defensive towers. It is currently under renovation which is managed and supervised by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture. This will be opened for visitors soon.
As for the architectural style, all these houses and mosques were built with clay, stones and plaster, and are very similar in their interior and exterior design, and the population depends on aflaj for fresh water. In general, the construction techniques which were used in these areas are similar to those used in many other places like Nizwa, Al Hamra, Ibra, Ibri, Bahla and Izki.
“All these old houses were made of stone and Saruj. Juss would be used for mortar between the stone courses to add strength and for rendering the walls. Stone was always used for the foundations of mud-brick buildings, to a depth of 1-2 metres. Arches were constructed in bricks and mud mortar or stone with Juss sprung off columns”, a local explained.
“Since decades, the builders have stopped using mud when cement materials arrived on the market, because people found it easier and preferred to enhance their houses appearances to be more modern”, a local told Observer.
In addition, Wilayat of Adam has unique geological and archaeological sites. These can be seen in several places like Qarat al Melh and Qarn Alam. In 1994, Italian exploratory missions have found some tools dating back to the Stone Age in a small site called Al Hawashi. This site is classified as one of the oldest site in the region. There are also ancient tombs in Jabal al Qarh, Wadi Halfeen, Jabal Medmar and hills around the wilayat. These tombs provide a great clue that Adam used to be one of the foremost old human settlements in the region.
A large part of these houses have collapsed, abandoned by their owners decades ago. People now use these areas as for dumping, which attracts insects and reptiles. These lanes pose a danger to residents during rains which cause mud walls to collapse. Locals in Adam requested the authorities to find a way to preserve and restore these unique districts.
TEXT AND PHOTOS BY YAHYA AL SALMANI