The ancient city of Qalhât, located on the Omani coast, was one of the most important Islamic commercial hubs for Indian Ocean trade from its founding in the eleventh century until the arrival of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. Now an archaeological site but for one remaining structure—the small, dome-less mausoleum of Bibi Maryam (c.1280–1315)—Qalhât was the second city of the Kingdom of Hormuz, and significant enough to be mentioned by Marco Polo and visited by Ibn Battutah, two of the greatest explorers in history. The city was planned as a triangle, with fortification walls that can still be seen along the western edge of the site. There was once a dividing wall between the mausoleum and the rest of the city, as well as a wall that ran from the sea to the top of the mountain, protecting the city from coastal access. Recent excavations and surveys conducted in the main areas by a French team from the lab “Orient et Méditerranée” of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - Union Mixte de Recherche 8167 have been revealing the site’s history, the urbanism of the city and its evolution, the daily life of its inhabitants, the activities of the port in the region, and the greater international trade history of the Gulf region. In spite of the site’s significance, many of the ruins are in very poor condition and threatened by continued deterioration and structural collapse. Uncontrolled development and unmanaged tourism are also challenges for the future of Qalhât. A new road was built in 2010, linking Muscat to southern Oman, presenting a new set of opportunities and challenges for the preservation of the site.
How We Helped
Qalhât has been carefully excavated since 2008, and the Ministry of Heritage and Culture of the Sultanate of Oman (MHC) is now launching a new five-year Qalhât Development Project with the eventual aim to create an archaeological park at the site. In 2013, WMF entered into an agreement with the MHC to manage conservation activity on the site (one of the project’s three main focus areas along with excavation and tourism development). Work will focus on documenting site conditions, analyzing materials, carrying out key conservation interventions, and technical training in the field. WMF and the MHC will also collaborate to promote international cooperation and to increase awareness of the project and its methodology through professional exchange. WMF began preparatory work in April 2013, and is set to initiate the first phase of conservation work in October 2013. This will include focusing on stabilizing the most vulnerable parts of the site, planning and coordinating subsequent preservation activities, and developing training courses to build local capacity and technical skills.
Why It Matters
Qalhât is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the region, and of particular importance to Omani and Islamic history. Recent excavations have confirmed the need for immediate, continued preservation work at the site due to the fragility of exposed archaeological remains, as well as the need for a detailed conservation plan to properly site Qalhât within the larger Omani development context.