My meeting with history

Al Baleed or ‘The City’ in Salalah-Dhofar, in the south of Oman, an Unesco World Heritage Site,has a new publication: ‘Al Baleed Archaeological Park Salalah.’ In the booklet there is a chapter dedicated to the travellers/writers of Al Baleed. Especially in medieval times (1220-1430 AD) Al Baleed was a popular destination, one can read. And then we talk about Ibn Mujawir, Ibn Battuta, ….and Chinese travellers/writers. The writings of the last one brought me to Husn Al Baleed or the Palace and to the Al Baleed Mosque nearby.

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Husn Al Baleed lay on a hill. In 1347 the Husn Al Baleed was described by Ibn Battuta, who referred to it as “Dar al Hakem,” or the “Sultan’s Residence” one can read in the booklet. A virtual reconstruction of the palace done by the British artist Philip Bouchard, helps me to understand the grandeur of this building. Corner towers, casemate walls, walkways and drains as described in the booklet helps to re-imagine the strength of the ruins. Impressive is the grand staircase that led to the palace. By reading the writings of the Chinese Ma Huan, secretary and translator to the Admiral Zheng He, during his first visit to Dhofar, as noted in the booklet,  I can re-imagine the life of the Sultan in the City…how he was dressed, how he appeared through the city and how he support his people in trading with ships coming in.

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Just some steps away from the palace, about 30m from the husn, lays the Al Baleed Mosque with the 144 columns, one can read in the booklet. It is again the virtual reconstruction of the Mosque by Philip Bouchard who helps to understand the architecture. An aerial view, a picture of various column designs and a virtual drawing of pillars inside the Mosque helps to see the richness of this place of worship. It made me curious to visit the Museum of the Frankincense Land where some of the original columns are showcased.

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“Al Baleed Archaeological Park-Salalah” describes the excavation works and restoration of the ruins unearthed, conducted by the Office of the Advisor to His Majesty the Sultan for Cultural Affairs in collaboration with Professor Juris Zarins, who led the excavations and restorations work at the Al Baleed site. The booklet can be purchased in the bookshop of the Museum of the Frankincense land. ISBN 978-0-9816068-6-6. There is also an Arabic edition available.

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