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Ancient City of Qalhat

Date de soumission : 23/05/2013
Critères: (ii)(iii)(iv)(v)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Permanent Delegation of the Sultanate of Oman to UNESCO
État, province ou région :
South al Sharqiyya Governorate, Sultanate of Oman, Wilayat Sur
Coordonnées N 22° 41' 811" E 59° 22' 391"
Ref.: 5830

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The ancient City of Qalhat is located in the South al Sharqiyya Governorate of Oman, as this city is similar to the Kingdom of Hormuz in Iran especially in the architectural aspects, the climate and the topography of the land. Therefore, the main structures in the anicent city of Qalhat are coupled with the architectural features of Hormuz, as well as the architectural type of certain water cisterns in the city of Qalhat are coupled with water system at Hawra Bargha in Sohar in the Sultanate of Oman since the Nabahina ruling reign (1624-1744).

Qalhat is a historical successful harbour city situated on the Gulf of Oman and situated north of Sur. It was considered as an important sea port in the centuries before 1500 BC and welcomed ships coming from India, Yemen and Dhofar through Arab Sea. The town was under the control of the kings of Hormuz and became destroyed in 1508. The site became never overbuilt or stone robbed. Most houses and walls of coral and cobble stones collapsed over the time.

The city of Qalhat is situated on a coastal plateau about 10 m above the sea. It is bordered in the west by mountains, by sea in the north, and a valley and a marsh (khaur) in the northwest. It covers an area of 35-hectar with a length of about 1 km from the north to the south. It is surrounded by a number of fortification walls and defense towers. A cluster of small settlements and architectural remains indicate its importance in the past when it was a renowned city and port with a prosperous lifestyle and economy. Qalhat was the second capital of the Hormuzian Empire which dominated the entrance of the Arabian Gulf and controlled its trade roots which linked the area with Southeast Asia, China, India, and the Persian Empire. Between 1300 and 1508 Hormuz controlled many of the towns lying on the Arabian coast, including Qalhat, Qurayyat, Muscat, and Sohar. The city was described as rich, active and largely populated with bazaar, a famous and large mosque, and refined houses belonging to the wealthy merchants.

The most important of its archaeological remains is the Bibi Maryam mausoleum, powerful in form and robust in structure. The Mausoleum of Bibi stands out as a sign of vanished glory overlooking the sea and the now silted up creek once active with mooring vessels from the Indian Ocean.

Today it is the only lasting monument (partially eroded) that remains close to the ruins of an impressive cistern, two small domed tombs and portions of the town walls. Qalhat was just famous and described by the most famous European and Arabian travelers such as Marco Polo (1254-1324 AD) and Ibn Battuta (1304-1377 AD) as a prosperous city devoted to seafaring trade in the Indian Ocean and famous for its export of horses from the Interior of the Arab Peninsula to Indian kings and maharajahs. But they also exported dates, pearls and salt. They returned from India with cloth, metalwork, spices and rice to be exchanged with people in Persia and other parts of the Gulf.

Afonso de Albuquerque after a peaceful treaty in his first visit in 1505 with the local governor of Hormuz at Qalhat came back in 1508. But now he ordered sacking and a brutal destruction of the city most probably because of being under the political influence of the Portuguese, the new enemies of the king of Hormuz. The town never was rebuilt and the function of the leading harbour city moved to Muscat as it had moved before from Sohar to Qalhat. Qalhat was not alone, al Balid/Salalah had a comparable destiny by the Portuguese. Only as retrospective historical reminiscence chronicles by the Portuguese Lopo Vas de Sampaio (1526) and in 1543 by Diego Lopez de Basto (1543) must be understood when describing Qalhat as lively town.

Recent investigations and restoration:

By the year 2003, the Ministry of Heritage and Cultural has carried out archaeological investigations in various parts of the site. These efforts include surveys, test excavations and documentations. In addition, an underwater survey was conducted in areas, which are believed to contain maritime remains of ships and their activities. A number of stone anchors were retrieved (see Annex B). Recently the famous mosque described by Ibn Battuta could be identified near the sea (Rougeulle 2010).

Presently, restoration efforts were directed to Bibi Maryam's tomb and other smaller tombs. It is anticipated that the current restoration activities will come to an end soon.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionelle

Qalhat is a manifestation of a developed medieval city port of complex trade links with the interior of Oman and beyond the Indian Ocean. Certainly Near Eastern, Arabian, and Far Eastern influences and artifacts are mixed here. Qalhat had a great political influence until its destruction in 1508. The second, third, forth, and fifth criteria are clearly met by this ancient city, its environment and monuments.

Criterion (ii): The ancient city of Qalhat is affected by very strong exchanging impacts which took place since long periods concerning the stages of the development of architecture engineering and civil planning.

Criterion (iii): The ancient city of Qalhat stands as a unique testimony on cultural traditions and an ancient civilization.

Criterion (iv): The ancient city of Qalhat is an outstanding example for an early typical city port representing important stages in the history of mankind. There is no other harbour site on the Arabian Peninsula where remains of the 13.-15. century can be comparably comprehensively studied, neither at Al Balid, Muscat, Sur or Sohar.

Criterion (v): The ancient city of Qalhat, presenting a distinguished example of traditional method in using chances landscapes may open. This method is representing the interaction between man and his environment, especially when it is threatened by the transforming impacts.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité


  • Shape and Design: Most of the archaeological remains of the ancient city of Qalhat are still preserving a height of about 1 m and so demonstrate the original shape and design of its architecture. A careful conservation could save sensitive details such as stucco gratings.
  • Material and Core: The ancient city of Qalhat is still preserving the original and core material.
  • Usage and Function: The Government gives a special attention to the ancient city of Qalhat. Archaeological surveys and excavation activities were conducted together with the restoration work on the shrines and cisterns. Detailed research can identify different quarters of trade and production, e.g. for glass arm rings. It also became an important tourist landmark.
  • Traditions, Technologies, and Administration System: Considering its accordance with the authenticity of the site, and in case of the development, it preservation of the originality of the traditional architecture is sure.
  • The Space and Surroundings: The ancient city of Qalhat is distinguished by its open spaces which were very suitable to build the different distributed structures such as mausoleums, shrines, city walls, tombs with inscriptions, and a large cistern beside all the private houses and the great mosque.

    The place and the surrounding city embraced with natural beauty where the high mountains are situated at the southern side, the foothills are covering the city from the eastern side, the khaur, the Wadi and the modern village of Qalhat at the western side, while the clear blue sea at the northern side, the 2000 meters long meandrous rocky coastline which differs in the height levels forming a horseshoe shape. The city is becoming more beautiful by its natural color contrast and the growing bushes and perennialtrees. All these wonderful features add exceptional aesthetic values to the place and its surroundings.
  • Language and other Forms of intangible Heritage: The Arabic and English languages are used in the Tourism Guidance at the ancient city of Qalhat, as the people who are living in modern Qalhat inhabitants are still visiting the archaeological site and settled in its surroundings, practicing their traditions and local accents which represent the Omani intangible cultural heritage.
  • Soul and Sensibility: The ancient city of Qalhat represents the authenticity and the old past, it is related to the memory and feelings of the nation as it considered as a symbol of archaeology, history and civilization.


  • Most of the archaeological remains at the ancient city of Qalhat still preserve its architectural elements which express the exceptional international history and value.  
  • The wide extent of the city allows all remains and the archaeological features to be clearly exposed. 
  • The location of the ancient city of Qalhat is distinguished by its independence and the relative distance from the modern village in the neighbourhood which keeps the historical site away from destruction. The people are well aware of the historical importance of the site.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

-Mausoleum of Bibi Maryam; During the 14th century Qalhat was, as reported by chronicles, under political and cultural control of the king of Hormuz, one of the numerous Persian kingdoms arising after the collapse of the Mongol Il Khanids (1218-1334). The relation between Qalhat and the Kingdom of Hormuz is the explication why the forms of Bibi Maryam recall those of similar monuments of the 12th – 14th century inIran andCentral Asia.

During the period of Persian influence Ibn Battuta visited Qalhat between 1328 and 1330, many years after the death (1311) of Bahauddin Ayez, king of Hormuz and ruler of Qalhat who built the Mausoleum in honour of his wife Bibi Maryam. He was the son of the founder of the Hormuz empire. Bahauddin Ayaz retired to Qalhat, where his family originated, and died there around 712 AH, 1312 AD and was buried in a splendid mausoleum built by Bibi

The structural form of the Mausoleum of Bibi Maryam rely on many of those built in Persia during the Seljuk Il Khanid period (11-14th century), evidently because the spread of Islam opened new horizons even in dominating diverse areas, creating expansion on economy and exchange of culture. The Persians with the acquisition of Islam having a strong cultural tradition had the opportunity to extend their influence.

The form of the Bibi Maryam Mausoleum recalls the Samanid Mausoleum in Bukhara from 907 AD because of its dimension and proportion confirming that even in the following century as the 14th the experience acquired in construction of notable building were based on rules and forms already experimented in Sasanian period, refined in the early Islam period between the 7th and the 11th century and definitely acquired as mathematic formulation in the 12th and 14th century by a tradition.

The Samanid Mausoleum in Bukharais the first example of this kind and has a clear influence in the subsequent Islamic architecture of Mausoleums like Bibi Maryam as both appear simple in scale and harmonious in proportions. The solution carried out with the Qalhat Mausoleum is more advanced and it is clearly related to the Mausoleum of Mulla Hazan, near Zandjan (Iran) which was presumably before the 14th century and amplified with an external gallery in the Il Khanid period with the addition of a larger dome above the existing one as per Seljuk tradition. But if we extrapolate from the final appearance the earlier form of the Milla Hazan Mausoleum, we notice the analogies between Bibi Maryam and Mulla Hazan related to the design of the Samanid tomb in Bukhara. The design consists in a massive cubic construction capped by a dome on a square chamber, the squinches experimented in Bukhara, are now in both the buildings of Qalhat (Oman) and Sandman (Iran), both of them built in the 14th century, with sqinches being the main feature with the arches and niches visible on the elevation. Both are designed with the use of pointed arches and niches that appeared for the first time in Persian architecture in Damganian Tari Kane 8th century confirming the use of experiment tradition in later centuries.

Standing in its actual status Bibi Maryam represent a rare masterpiece of architecture and above all on sophisticated techniques of its time and should be listed among those few ones. Later the tendency had abandoned the use of square proportions and rules adopted in these monuments, manifesting the unique value of Bibi Maryam due to its integrity preserved. Later the design of the plans of the mausoleums changed from square to octagonal and the dimension of the elevation prevailed on the dimension of the plan. This happened in the 14th  century when Mulla Hazan mausoleum was re-embellished in accordance with the tendency of style changing the design of the plan from square to octagonal adding an external corridor and emphasizing the height of the building with a new pointed dome capping the existing one. The Mausoleum of Celebi Oglu also inIran clearly manifests this new tendency having a predominant dimension on elevation above an octagonal plan. In the Mausoleum of Celebi Oglu there is evidence of the crypt similar to that one we have in Bibi Maryam. The difference between Bibi Maryam squared plan and other monuments built in the same period is that the form of plan further adopted is octagonal in order to facilitate the sitting of the dome on the perimeter walls. Both Bibi Maryam in Qalhat and the Mausoleum of the Samanids inBukhara represent unique examples of squared harmonious proportions, not altered but preserved in all their original forms.

-Qalhat anchors which were mentioned above can be compared with many other anchors. There is one anchor found at Lothal on the IndianCoast. Many other examples which resemble more to Qalhat anchors were discovered in the Mediterranean Sea at various sites which represent different civilizations such as the Phoenician, Egyptian, Babylonian and ancient Malta, while a similar stone anchor was discovered in the Hellenistic layers of Qala'at al-Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf.

-Battuta ca. 1330 AD: "The city of Qalhat is on the coast. It has good markets and one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. The walls of the mosque are covered with blue ceramic tiles. It stands on a hill beside the harbour. This mosque was built by an important woman named Bibi Maryam. The people here are merchants, and they bring many goods from India. When a ship arrives the people are very happy".