Dhofar is full of history and the evidences of its richness in the past are evident everywhere. An observer’s vision to look into takes them to the old houses which are spread all over the old dwellings in the centuries old establishments in Mirbat, Taqah and Salalah.
One such building in Salalah is under renovation by its current owners, who are not only successful businessmen but also philanthropists and have taken many initiatives for the community’s social and cultural empowerment.
Bait al Ghassani is one of the many old houses, which reflect the richness of Dhofari people some 200 years ago, their way of life and economic and social activities. In Arabic ‘Bait’ stands for ‘house’ and Ghassani is the family name coming from generations.
The house is undergoing renovation under the supervision of Musallam al Mashani for the last two years and is nearing completion. An archaeologist by profession, Musallam takes pride in being an Omani, its history and culture.
More than that, he loves to know the history of his grandparents and great grandparents and their contemporaries.
So much so that sometimes he himself lifts the equipment and starts digging.
“This I found from the master bedroom of the house owner,” says Musallam while showing some Omani sticks and make-up items of women. “I look at things differently… the decoration pieces might not be very expensive, but for me they are more precious than gold, because they belong to my grandparents and great grandparents,” he says.
He looks at things in that perspective while restoring the old houses. Musallam contests the word ‘renovation’ for ancient houses and calls the ongoing work at Bait Ghassani as ‘restoration’. “In renovation you are free to do anything according to your choice and comfort, but in restoration you do not have any choice but to restore the original spirit of the house. It cannot be hundred per cent original due to the house’s dilapidated condition, used materials etc, but we try to meet the challenge of being very close to the original and this is the beauty of our work.”
Building a three-storey house including ground, first and second floors would have been really a difficult task some 180 years ago. The resources, materials and the technology adopted to build the house reflect the prosperity side of the house owners.
The structure reflects that the house was fulfilling both residential and commercial purposes as the ground floor of the house had very few windows and was likely used as store for business purposes. A shop like provision with a transaction window very close to the stores suggests the business activity being undertaken from the house.
“While doing the restoration we have made provisions for ventilation leaving scope for the visitors to understand the original structure. The number of rooms on all the floors remains the same, nine rooms with provisions of bathroom and kitchen,” says Musallam.
While doing the restoration Musallam has ensured that the original pockets in the walls, to keep lamps or other day-to-day things, are maintained with some modifications.
“Modifications were in the form of material only, as we did not play with their sizes and shapes. Moreover we are trying to use original wooden doors as much as possible. Some of them are broken. In that case we are recreating new doors with same design,” Musallam said.
Some doors are so strong that they are intact despite buried under dust and trash for so many years. Musallam admits that when he started the restoration work, some portions of the house were not even visible.
The house has almost been restored and likely to be converted into a private museum of the Al Ghassani family of Salalah.