Qalhat a city that drew praise from travellers

Muscat, July 1 – The news of ancient city of Qalhat’s recognition as a Unesco World Heritage site is making headlines on both local and international media. The announcement was made at Unesco’s 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee meeting in Bahrain. Qalhat dates back to pre-Islamic times. The port city on Oman’s Indian Ocean coast was once a key hub for trade in goods, including Arabian horses to Chinese porcelain, according to the Omani submission.  The case of Qalhat also demonstrates the power women could hold in Arabian society at the time.
Sultan bin Saif al Bakri, Director-General of Antiquities at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, said this recognition indicates the “global exceptional value” of Qalhat as a significant cultural and economic connection point in the 13th Century.
“The city is characterised by the fusion of cultures evidenced through buildings, tombs and mosques inspired by the Persian Safavid architecture. This is addition to Ottoman baths that depend on water vapour, indicating the extent of prosperity of this city in the ancient times,” said Al Bakri.
Many international travellers and historians have talked about their visit to Qalhat in their books. Marco Polo, the famous Italian traveller who visited Oman in 1272, wrote: “Qalhat was distinguished by its harbour, which was a stopping port for many trading ships from India.”
He further described Qalhat as “a great city located on a bay called Qalhat. Its people do not farm grains, but import them from outside the country on commercial boats. The port is very large and good. From this city, spices and other goods are distributed in the interior cities. They also export to India many of the original Arabian horses.”
Ibn Batuta, the Moroccan traveller, visited Qalhat in the 14th Century. He noted in his book that it had fine bazaars and one of the most beautiful mosques. “Its walls are tiled with qashani, which is like zilij, and occupies a lofty place that commands a view of the sea and the anchorage. It was built by the saintly woman Bibi Maryam (bibi meaning ‘noble lady),” he describes. He said: “I ate fish in this city that I did not eat like in any region, and I preferred it to all other meat. They grill it on leaves, and eat it with rice. Rice is brought from India. They are people of trade and live on what comes to them from the Indian Ocean.”

Zainab al Nassri