Gift of history- The tomb of Bibi Maryam are never-dying memories of a splendid era...
What lie interred in the tomb of Bibi Maryam are never-dying memories of a splendid era… of kings and queens, of global trade, of thriving culture and of the horrors of invasion as well. They whisper to us, in words that are frozen in time, of the subtle bio-continuum across millennia called life as we perceive it, and of the inevitable and irrevocable losses that time gifts us as it gallops ahead.
The tomb is the only visible structure left in the ancient city of Qalhat — located on the east coast of the Sultanate — which has been declared a World Heritage Site by the Unesco.
All other majestic elements of a once bustling community have been lost to the ravages of time and invasion.
The site entered the heritage list as it fulfilled two major criteria: “Exhibiting an important interchange of human values over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town planning or landscape design,” and “bearing a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or has disappeared.”
Qalhat is the latest addition to the Sultanate’s four other Unesco recognized heritage sites of Bahla Fort; archaeological sites of Bat, Al Khutm and Al Ayn; Aflaj irrigation systems and the Land of Frankincense.
The archaeological site is spread over 35 hectares, and includes the ancient city of Qalhat, surrounded by inner and outer walls, along with areas beyond the ramparts where necropolises are located, Unesco notes, adding, Qalhat developed as a major port on the east coast of Arabia between 11th and 15th centuries CE, during the reign of the Hormuz princes. “Today, it bears unique archaeological testimony to the trade links between the east coast of Arabia, East Africa, India, China and South-East Asia,” it says.
Was the tomb built by the King of Hormuz, Bahauddin Ayez, in the 13th century in honour of his wife Bibi Maryam? Or is it the site of a mosque that Maryam built herself, and became her final resting place? No one knows for sure.
Historians believe that earthquakes and Portuguese invasion in 1508 sealed the fate of the city, reducing Qalhat to an abandoned city. But nothing could erase its past glory.
The Sultanate values its rich cultural heritage, and has formulated an effective management plan to protect its ancient heritage sites. The National Heritage Protection Law (1980) remains central to preserving the country’s priceless heritage, while the Ministry of Heritage and Culture has been tirelessly working to protect and promote its diverse heritage sites and values with innovative and visionary ideas.
As for the Sultanate’s other world heritage sites, the Wadi Dawkah’s frankincense trees and the caravan oasis of Shisr, as well as the ports of Khor Rori and Al Baleed proudly point to the brisk centuries-old trade in frankincense that counts among the major trading activities of the ancient and medieval world.
Unesco recognises this group of archaeological sites for its value as the trading centre for frankincense, which was one of the most important luxury items of trade in ancient times. “The Oasis of Shisr and the pots of Khor Rori and Al Baleed are outstanding examples of medieval fortified settlements in the Arabian Gulf region”, the organisation notes.
The pre-historic archaeological complex of Bat, Khutm and Ayn earned world heritage status as it stands tall as one of the “most complete and well preserved ensembles of settlements and necropolises from the 3rd millennium BCE,” according to Unesco.
Bahla, on the other hand, has been recognized for its stature as an outstanding fortified oasis settlement belonging to the Islamic period, and for the unique mud-brick technology and its excellent water engineering system for agro-domestic uses.
Moving on, Oman’s aflaj are more than 3,000 years old, and they are still functional, which makes them extraordinary. They demonstrate sustainable use of water resources making use of ancient water management skills that suit extremely arid landscapes. Oman’s aflaj systems reflect “time-honoured, fair and effective management and sharing of water resources, underpinned by mutual dependence and communal values,” as Unesco describes them.
That the Sultanate has five properties inscribed on the World Heritage Site is a purely academic statement. However, as anyone who experienced the ‘Jewel of the Arabian Peninsula” would agree, the entire Sultanate is a world heritage.