Qalhat in Oman is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites

Qalhat in Oman, 22kms north-west of the port town of Sur is Oman’s latest UNESCO World Heritage Site, following from the announcement of Al Ahsa in Saudi Arabia.

Water Cistern – Qalhat in Oman - UNESCO
Water Cistern – Qalhat UNESCO – Oman

Qalhat is an ancient trading city, the second city of the Kingdom of Hormuz which was based at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf. The town existed before 1225, as it was mentioned by Ibn Mujawir as inheriting the trade, in 1225,  from the destroyed town of Suhar. It was certainly linked in some way to the Kingdom of Hormuz as records mention a former governor of Qalhat, Mahmud Al Qalhati, as becoming King of Hormuz; he later integrated Qalhat under the rule of Hormuz.

Qalhat in Oman - UNESCO
Qalhat UNESCO – Oman

The Kingdom of Hurmuz seems to have ruled coastal areas of Oman and areas around the Strait of Hormuz. The kingdom was considered fabulously wealthy and attracted travellers including, probably March Polo around 1292AD, and certainly Ibn Battuta in 1329AD. Ibn Battuta mentions a ‘mosque’ a being built by Bibi Maryam and tradition mention a mausoleum that, although for her husband is traditionally named after her.

‘Bibi Maryam’ mausoleum - Qalhat in Oman - UNESCO
‘Bibi Maryam’ mausoleum – Qalhat UNESCO – Oman

The mausoleum is the most prominent structure standing in Qalhat today. Stretching to its east and southeast are the remains of the town. A major mosque lies on the sea edge of the town. Beyond the town in the southeast is a substantial town wall.

The location of Qalhat as a major trading town is surprising as there is a limited supply of water. However the evidence of cisterns, coupled with Oman’s tradition Aflaj water system suggest that water may have been transported by channel from the mountains to the town.

By the end of the 16th c the town was in decline, possibly due to earthquake damage and silting of its small harbour. This decline was compounded by the arrival of the Portuguese in the Arabian Sea, which disrupted historical trade systems and following their second arrival to the town in 1508 they destroyed it.

Qalhat will make an interesting visit following its opening by the Oman government.

Author: Tony Walsh

Book author including the current Bradt guide to Oman – edition 4