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Documenting Heritage Managing Development Barkat al-Mawz & Izki, Oman Soumyen Bandyopadhyay Paul Yule Giamila Quattrone John Harrison Haitham Al-Abri Habib Reza Ali Al-Mahrooqi

Ministry of Heritage and Culture Sultanate of Oman


The main continuous land-mass of the Sultanate of Oman stretches from Yemen to the Gulf of Oman, and from its less clearly defined borders with Saudi Arabia, through the Empty Quarters (ar-Rub’ al-Khali), to the Arabian Sea. The isolated mountain range that forms the core of this region - the Oman Mountains - is a sweeping arc about 650km long, which stretches between Ra’s al-Hadd, the most easterly point of the Arabian Peninsula, to Ra’s al-Jabal, the gateway to the Persian/Arabian Gulf. To its southwest and west, a fertile wellirrigated foothill, zone with very few natural connections with the coast and the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, forms a land-locked ‘island’. This isolated land is traditionally referred to as the Interior (ad-Dakhiliyah) region of Oman. The major oasis settlements - Izki, Barkat al-Mawz, Nizwa, Manah, Adam, Bahla, AlHamra, and ‘Ibri - isolated by dry rivers or wadis and many dating back to the preIslamic period - are located within this region of significant geo-political and socio-cultural importance. The falaj - an irrigation system of underground and over-ground channels -formed the lifeline for these settlements. These are mostly of great antiquity, some dating back to c. 1000 BC (e.g., Maysar). The conservation policy of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture (MHC) has shifted from forts and castles to the conservation of settlements. An inventory now lists about 400 settlement quarters (harah) of which 86 have been prioritised for immediate attention. This NTU project - focusing on Barkat alMawz and Izki - aims to deliver detailed models and guidelines relevant to Oman, as well as develop appropriate, cost-effective and expedient methods for producing Heritage Management Plans. These are fundamental to the shaping of historical settlements for future generations by appropriately integrating development

needs with the management, reuse and conservation of the historical fabric.

Barkat al-Mawz & Izki


Harat as-Saybani was chosen for its important characteristics: • location as the gateway to the Jabal alAkhdar mountains, a popular touristic destination. The harah already attracts a significant tourist population; • unique topography, having developed along a very steep hill face; • visual prominence; • falaj system, inscribed as a World Heritage Site; • tribal history and the political events of the 1950s; • complex dwelling types in response to the topographic challenge.

A reconnaissance survey was undertaken in November 2010 when a number of settlements were visited, including ‘Imti, Harat al-Yemen in Izki and Harat as-Saybani in Barkat alMawz.

Harat al-Yemen in Izki was also identified for documentation in the second phase.

Preparatory work was undertaken at NTU to develop fieldwork strategy and implementation procedures: • procurement and preparation of aerial photographs for on-site use; • preparation of documentation and drawing guidelines for on-site use; • inventory data sheets appropriate for designated sites; • data handling and storage strategy. While Harat as-Saybani remains the focus of the project, it was realised that a successful Heritage Management Plan would need to address the other settlement quarters of the oasis, Harat Burj al-Makasir and Harat al-Wadi.

Barkat al-Mawz & Izki

A month-long fieldwork season was undertaken by the NTU research team in February 2011. Another short phase of fieldwork took place towards the end of March, which was also used to carry out selective documentation at Harat al-Yemen in Izki.


The distinctive round-plan tower at the apex of the hill provided surveillance and communication with outlying towers (2 rings of towers identified), establishing a defensive strategy for the harah and the oasis. The outer edges of the harah fanning out from the apex and running along the incline were fortified with formidable dry stone wall construction, with the north-eastern wall containing an ‘escape route’. Cultural memory has preserved knowledge of a final extension of the harah at the bottom of the hill to include the present large entrance courtyard, as well as the knowledge of a previous gateway into the settlement. The main streets followed the incline, forming stepped passages built into the rock face using wherever possible the natural rock formation. There are indications of the settlement’s morphological process; earlier streets and passages appear to have been incorporated into dwellings or made redundant as the settlement expanded. Based on the distinctive physical traces and information gathered from local inhabitants a

morphological map of the settlement was established identifying all dwellings and building types. It is believed that the oldest settlement was likely to have been near the apex of the hill, protected by the naturally occurring steep incline and centred on some form of defensive feature in the position of the present tower. This early formation evolved by coming down the hill initially, followed by fanning out on either side of the central core. The ruined structures behind the tower, built entirely of dry stone masonry construction, appear to be much older and bear similarities with the settlement known as Istanbul near ‘Imti, reputedly of ancient origin. It is likely that these structures, possibly part of the ancient core of Harat asSaybani, began life as dwellings but were later appropriated as pens by the semi-nomadic shawawi groups. Numerous fossils were found around this area.

Harat as-Saybani


Apart from dwellings, the other building types identified within the harah include a mosque, a number of male meeting halls (sbal, s. sablah), numerous water access and bathing points along Falaj al-Khatmeen and the remains of a Qur’anic school (madrasah). The restoration of the falaj channel of Falaj al-Khatmeen - inscribed on the World Heritage Site list - has resulted in minor shifts along its course through the harah, although traces of the older course are still evident in places. The sbal at Harat as-Saybani are of a wide variety; these range from semi-private meeting halls associated with significant dwellings similar to the reception halls, majlis, in modern dwellings, to communal halls used as winter and summer sablah, and those associated with entrance gateways, used for formal communal meetings. Meeting halls were part of the social space of oasis settlements, mediating between the privacy of the dwelling and the public nature of the suq, the market. This is where the males congregated prior to and after prayers. The five daily prayers configured

social time and the congregations in the sbal allowed dwellings and residential access passages to work as women’s congregation spaces, extending family space out on to the street.

Harat as-Saybani


The dwellings - virtually all of which are double-storied - are complex in plan, partly owing to the topographic complexity they had to negotiate. Dwellings often overlap extending over a neighbouring property that did not require as much space. Uniquely, some dwellings contain entrance

from the upper floor, resulting directly from the significant topographic shifts experienced within the harah. Sample results of the fieldwork show the detailed documentation resulting from sketch drawings of dwelling clusters prepared on site, which were supported by inventory data sheet entries documenting the present state of preservation. Information regarding the social history and the spatial distribution of tribes resident in the harah was collected through semi-structured interviews. Photographic documentation followed established guidelines to ensure comprehensive data collection. Broadly adhering to the


house type, the dwellings in Harat asSaybani include cattle pens (for goats and cows) and date and general storage areas on the ground and lower-ground floors, alongside an entrance hall and occasionally a majlis. Kitchens generally found on the first floor are also sometimes part of the ground floor arrangement. Sleeping rooms and women’s meeting spaces (usually in the form of a large room or a covered veranda, liwan) form the first floor organization. However, latrines - usually found on the first floors of dwellings in Manah and Nizwa, with a ground floor pit - are rare in as-Saybani. The settlement currently remains uninhabited, barring only a few dwellings. The lack of maintenance and conservation arising from this situation is a significant threat. Fallen debris, as well as those deposited by local inhabitants, pose significant health and safety threats as well as conservation challenges.

Unmanaged tourism activity and illinformed tourist guides allow visitors to roam the settlement unchecked. This not only poses a threat to the safety of the visitors but also affects the existing built fabric.

Harat as-Saybani


Izki is reputedly the oldest settlement in Oman. The only mention of Oman from the Early Iron Age II (EIA, 1100-600 BC) appears to be in the limestone stele erected by the Assyrian king Assurbanipal (669-627 BC) in the temple of Istar at Nineveh around 640 BC. The Istar

slab text of Assurbanipal boasts of one Pade, king of Qade, who resided in Izki and brought him tributes.

Harat al-Yemen settlement quarter was identified for fieldwork, which was carried out in collaboration with archaeologist Prof Paul Yule from the Seminar for the Languages and Cultures of the Near East (Semitic Studies), Heidelberg University. The relatively simple layout illustrates the

consecutive destruction and rebuilding of the harah during the mid18th century, reflected in its social history. Al-Yemen, inhabited by the Manadhirah and the Awlad Bahlani, was destroyed in the protracted civil war during the late 17th century. The Manadhirah successfully reconstructed the harah during the rule of Imam Ahmed b. Sa‘id Al Bu Sa‘idi (1753/4-1783). Soon after the reconstruction, however, the Manadhirah were dispossessed yet again; this time by the Daramikah (nisbah, ad-Darmaki), who had also lost their harah of ‘Adbi during the wars. Keeping this social history in mind the following selective documentation was accomplished: • the Friday Mosque (Masjid al-Jami‘) and its environs, including archaeological dig; • the north and the east gates and associated buildings and structures; • all male meeting halls (sbal / sablah); • a large dwelling cluster of the Darmaki tribe close to the north gate; • a comprehensive tribal mapping. A 9 x 1.5 x 1.5m deep test trench in the abandoned Friday mosque was undertaken, given its importance within the settlement. Different possibilities presented themselves: the palace of king Pade of Qade/Izki, a pre-Islamic sanctuary or a previous mosque. The periods for which nothing is known archaeologically deserves attention, which include the First Imamate period in Oman. The mosque is built on an artificially raised platform which makes it higher than the rest of al-Yemen. At 1.5m depth the team uncovered the remains of painted walls with the same qiblah orientation as the mosque. These probably belong to a previous mosque, the date of which is as yet unknown.



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