Acknowledged as the heart of the Majan Civilisation in historic Oman, the ancient settlement of Salut lies in the western part of the Al Hajar mountains, north of Bisyah, and approximately 25 km south of Bahla, in the Al Dakhiliyah Governorate. Most people are unaware of the fact that Salut is one of the oldest pre-Islamic settlements on the Arabian Peninsula and an important site for tracing the roots of Omani heritage and culture. Frequently mentioned in the surviving oral history of Oman, it is here that legends intertwine with history.
According to popular folklore, recorded in the Kitab-al-Ansab or book of genealogy (one of Oman’s most ancient historical texts), the wise king Solomon, son of David visited a mighty fort in Salut on one of his mythical journeys. Here, he ordered the building of a thousand water channels, creating what is believed in Omani tradition, to be the ancient irrigation system of the Falaj. Today remains of the ancient Falaj system, rock inscriptions, pottery and other artefacts found at the site provide unquestionable proof of Salut’s links to some of the earliest civilisations known to mankind.
Salut is also famously believed to be to the site where, centuries later, brave Malik Ibn Fahm was to lead a victorious war. With a force of only 10,000 men, Malik Ibn Fahm prevailed against invading forces from Persia, some 30,000 to 40,000 strong who, mounted on elephants, were nonetheless forced to retreat. This pivotal event is retold with pride and marks the “Arabization” and independence of Oman.
Legends aside, lots of materials were unearthed in the past few years by Italian archaeologists in Salut. Given its significance in the history of Oman, Salut has been more extensively excavated than any other ancient site in the Sultanate. Archaeologists have uncovered a wealth of information which seems to indicate that Salut was thriving as far back as the third millennium BC. The areas in and around Salut have the densest concentration of settlement and funerary remains dating from the Early Bronze Age right through to the Iron Ages when Salut developed into a flourishing city with impressive buildings and waterways. Today, its remarkable Iron Age complex is known to be the largest discovered in all of southeast Arabia.
A pioneering team of archaeologists from Harvard University were the first to survey the area in the early 1970s, thanks to the vision of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, who put great emphasis on preserving the history and culture of the Sultanate. While a sporadic study of the area continued through the years, it was only much later that extensive excavations were undertaken by the Italian Mission to Oman, with the invaluable support of the Adviser to His Majesty the Sultan, for Cultural Affairs.
Salut began to lose its prominence over the centuries but was not completely abandoned, and with time, a new village arose on top of the ancient ruins. Standing testament to its long continuity, the hills surrounding Salut are peppered with beehive tombs, historically significant Bronze Age towers, forts, and early Islamic settlements. In 2015, a large stone wall — part of the ancient city of Salut, dating back to the Iron Age was uncovered. Within, lay numerous buildings, some with two or more rooms, separated by narrow streets. An impressive stone-built terrace system added an interesting touch. Funerary goods found in some of the tombs indicate that Salut was part of a far-reaching trade network, suggesting that Omanis have interacted with people from far-flung regions like Mesopotamia, Indus Valley, Persia, Yemen, and the Roman Empire for millennia.
Given its historical and cultural significance, the Ministry of Heritage and Culture in the Sultanate has taken efforts to ensure that the areas around Bisyah & Salut are carefully preserved for future generations.