Oman in drive to document rich heritage

Periodic review designed to identify monuments in need of repair and restoration

Gulf News

Muscat: Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Culture has begun the gargantuan task of documenting the country’s prodigious historical heritage exemplified by the numerous forts, castles, watchtowers and ancient neighbourhoods dotting the nation’s vast landscape. The initiative, spearheaded by the ministry’s Castles and Forts Department, is part of a periodic assessment of the country’s rich historical wealth designed to identify those elements most in need of repair and restoration. Previous restoration efforts have resulted in some monuments, notably the magnificent Bahla Fort in the interior of the country, gaining an entry into Unesco’s coveted World Heritage List. Preserving this collective national treasure, said the ministry in a statement issued here, is not only central to the government’s conservation strategy but also key to enhancing Oman’s overall tourism appeal. Teams of experts from the ministry have begun fanning out across the country’s governorates to update records documenting the estimated thousands of monuments that form part of Oman’s rich historical and archaeological heritage. While ongoing restoration programmes over the past four decades have returned many of these structures to their original grandeur, the great majority lie in picturesque ruin, underscoring the magnitude of the task — and the attendant costs — of refurbishing this vast legacy. In its statement, the ministry also announced the appointment of a specialised firm to undertake the restoration of an iconic watchtower standing sentinel-like over the historical district of Muttrah in the capital area. As many as 1,050 such watchtowers have been documented across the country. Elsewhere across the Sultanate, excavation teams continue to be busy at work at archaeological digs under way in Ibri, Halban and Sohar, the ministry said. Assisting in these excavations are experts enlisted from France, Italy, the United States, Britain and Germany as part as cooperative arrangements with universities in these countries. Local universities too are being roped in to assist in the documentation of the country’s diverse historical wealth. Students of Architectural Engineering from Sultan Qaboos University, University of Nizwa and Dhofar University are pitching in with help in the documentation of clusters of historical buildings across the Sultanate, the ministry added.