BY MARY OOMMEN –
As we walk through the archway, we are transported back in time, to an era when life was simpler. The silence is broken only by the sound of birds and the gentle trickling of water through the old falaj that still runs through the town. The narrow streets of this 300-year-old settlement are lined with houses made of rocks excavated from the mountain. The houses, some of which are multi-level, use an interesting kind of plaster, made with a mix of small stones, clay and what looks like hay, to hold the rocks together. Given the materials used, the old houses at Imty seem like a part of the mountain itself, seamlessly blending into the surroundings.
While some may see the ruins at Imty as a decaying wasteland, there are others like Maryam al Zadjali who, on visiting the ruins some years back, was captivated by its beautiful spaces. Chairman of the Omani Society for Fine Arts and an accomplished artist herself, Maryam was dismayed by the neglect she saw. She felt that the many small elements of beautiful Omani design and heritage in the abandoned village, like the carved wooden doors, arched windows and wooden ceilings, could be brought to life once again.
“My vision is to restore Imty into a place where Oman’s heritage, art and culture can be displayed and appreciated; a place that can be a hub for creative minds. I hope that in partnership with the local community and leadership, I can create sustainable development opportunities while also attracting visitors and tourists to the area. I saw this town and realised that this place has a certain energy, that it could be something more, something really special. I got in touch with the Ministry of Heritage and Culture and with their cooperation, I began reaching out to private companies for support with my project which I named ‘Immortalizing the Archaeological Moments in Art’. This is a first of its kind initiative in the Sultanate, and I’m excited to see my vision turn to reality.”
Maryam strongly feels that “the Imty project can be presented in a very attractive and unique way to visitors. It can also be used as a great platform to showcase the work of local Omani artists and craftspeople. Using this theme, in combination with the history of the place, we can create a sustainable village concept that will benefit the local community too. Moreover, I hope that this project will inspire others to help revive and restore the many such abandoned settlements across Oman.”
Imty has witnessed several developments throughout its long history. Walking along the dusty path and into the crumbling structures can be an interesting experience. It is easy to imagine the abandoned homes filled with people. If stones could speak, the old houses would have volumes to say about generations past. Carved lintels and painted wooden doors lead into the houses. Beautifully arched windows let the light in and reveal interesting details like niches blackened with soot, marking the place where lamps were placed at night. Clay shelves built into walls in rooms suggesting that these were perhaps used as bedrooms or stores. Some houses were larger and more elaborate than the rest, and belonged probably, to more well-off people. One such house boasted of a largish majlis build with an almost circular interior space created around a clay pillar. A few of the houses still had their ceilings in place — build with wooden rafters. While these structures look rickety and dangerous today, the fact that they remain standing after hundreds of years despite the harsh elements is a testament to their hardiness.
Situated in the Wilayat of Izki in Al Dakhiliyah governorate, Imty is roughly an hours’ drive from Muscat. Take the highway from Muscat to Nizwa. Before Izki, the village of Imty will be signposted. Take the turning, and when you reach a roundabout head straight over. Continue straight, crossing a wadi, and follow the road, which will take you to the village. Ask around, and you will be directed to this little treasure.
While Maryam continues to work tirelessly to revive the old village of Imty, we suggest you don’t wait, see the settlement as it is now, and you won’t regret your visit. Be careful while exploring the settlement though, since the old houses may have loose rocks and beams.