Land of Frankincense
Land Of Frankincense
Cultural Oman Arab States Dhofar Province

This group of archaeological sites in Oman represents the production and distribution of frankincense, one of the most important luxury items of trade in antiquity from the Mediterranean and Red Sea regions to Mesopotamia, India and China. They constitute outstanding testimony to the civilization that from the Neolithic to the late Islamic period flourished in southern Arabia. The Oasis of Shishr and the entrepôts of Khor Rori and Al-Balīd are excellent examples of medieval fortified settlements in the Persian Gulf region.

Shisr lies about 180 km north of Salalah in the desert. This agricultural oasis and caravan site on the route along which frankincense was brought from the Nejd to the port of Sumhuram was dominated by an Iron Age fortress and continued to be used in the Islamic periods. The archaeological remains occur near a large collapsed limestone dome in which there is a cave from which a perpetual spring flows. A fortress wall, constructed of limestone blocks and an irregular pentagon in plan, surrounds a central complex on a rocky outcrop. Stubs of walls indicate that the enceinte was divided into two enclosures, dominated by a substantial building that underwent a number of alterations and extensions during the medieval period, oriented on the cardinal points of the compass in what may be a southern Arabic tradition.

The port of Sumhuram/Khor Rori (the Moscha of classical geographical texts) was founded at the end of the 1st century by LL'ad Yalut to control the trade in Dhofar incense. Indian seamen who had brought cotton cloth, corn and oil in exchange for incense overwintered there, waiting for the favourable monsoon winds to take them home. It was the hub of the trading settlement on this coast during the 1st and 2nd centuries BC. Its close links with the powerful Shabwa state made this small fortified town very rich. The process of disintegration began in the first half of the 3rd century, when the site was reclaimed by the sea and by natural vegetation. Khor Rori lies 40 km to the east of Salalah on a hilltop on the eastern bank of a sweet-water outlet (khor ). The remains of the fortress are located on a rocky spur running east-west. It forms part of a wider defensive system, details of which still can be distinguished. The walls are built from dressed-stone facings with rubble cores. The most heavily fortified part is on the north, where the entrance is located, which itself is a massive structure with three successive gates on the steep entry path. It is flanked by the remains of towers.

Al-Balīd, an elevated site extending along the coast with a khor providing water from the mountains, is the historically late name for a medieval town in the Mahra area. It began to decline in the 12th century, and it was attacked and partially destroyed on several occasions in the 13th century, both by Arab rulers and by Persian raiders. By the late 15th century, radical changes to trading patterns imposed by Portuguese and other European trading nations sealed the fate of the town. Most of the site now consists of a barren landscape covered with stone blocks, the result of robbing for the construction of more recent buildings. The Great Mosque was surrounded by an outer platform on three sides. There was an inner courtyard and the 4 m square minaret was originally in the north-east corner. The main prayer hall was lined with 144 octagonal columns, which supported the roof. The structure underwent many changes, in some cases for collapses due to poor construction and for ground instability.

The Frankincense Park of Wadi Dawkah: The Neolithic inhabitants of southern Arabia were engaged in long-distance trade with the Arabian littoral and from there into Mesopotamia. Excavations have revealed that shells and obsidian were being traded, and there are documentary and epigraphic sources relating to trade in frankincense by the later 3rd millennium BCE, when it was certainly flourishing, not only with Mesopotamia but also with Egypt. The sources of frankincense can be identified with the three areas in the Dhofar region in which the frankincense tree is still to be found. The other main export from southern Arabia at this time was that of horses. The central feature is a north-draining wadi on the edge of the desert;the frankincense trees are to be found in the flat bed of the wadi . The higher areas within the park are largely acacias and similar species that can tolerate the more extreme conditions.