Friday, July 19, 2013

Oman - The Ancient City of Galhat

Bibi Maryam Tomb, Qulhat (Galhat).

Sent by Adil from Muscat, Oman.

The ancient city of Qalhat is now ruined, except for a small mausoleum locally known as Bibi Maryam (which however has lost its dome). 

Qalhat has been for centuries the second city of the kingdom of Hormuz and a very important point in the Indian Ocean trade. It was visited in the XIII th century by Marco Polo (who refers to it as Calatu) and in the XIVth century by Ibn Battutah who describes its magnificent new mosque. Both praise its prosperity and the quality of its constructions. 

The decline of the city in favour of Muscal had already started in 1507 when it was seized by Albuquerque and the Portuguese fleet. The wadi Hilmi provided a good supply of water (traces of ancient falaj system can still be seen) but there was almost no agricultural land nearby and all the food supply had to come from the interior (according to Albuquerque) or through trade by sea (according to Marco Polo and Ibn Battutah). Trade was clearly the unique raison d'etre of Qalhat. 

Today, the ruins occupy a very large area on the east bank of a wadi which opens into the khor of Qalhat, after crossing the mountains through narrow gorges. The ruins still cover more than sixty acres. The city was triangular in plan and its fortification walls can still be seen along the bank of the wadi to the northwest, and towards the mountain to the southwest, where it is preserved on one to two meters high. 

The western angle where the mausoleum is still standing was separarted from the rest of the town by a dividing wall. To the south, a second wall linking the seashore to the summit of the mountain protected the access along the coast. It seems that the area between this wall and the city itself was only loosely settled. 

Qalhat had always been considered as an excellent stronghold in ancient times. Inside the walled area and especially close to the coast, the extensive ruins of what were houses and entrepots can still be seen, reduced to heaps of stones with no standing walls. The surface is littered with sherds, including imported Persian and Chinese wares. 

The location of the mosque mentioned by Ibn Battutah has not been recognized. At present, Qalhat is an excellent archaeological site witnessing of the splendor of ancient Islamic trade in the Indian Ocean. Its potentially for archaeological studies is very high and it certainly ranges among the most important sites for this period. (Source)

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