The Sultanate of Oman has a tradition of cultural and civil heritage, which through history to the present day has become a valuable treasure for Omanis.
The majestic old forts and castles, the intricately-worked silver jewellery, the expertly-woven carpets and rugs are proof of Oman’s rich heritage.
The hospitality and warmth of complete strangers, the smell of burning frankincense, the taste of cardamom-flavoured coffee.
The noisy, colourful hustle and bustle of the souq, the timeless serenity of the deserts and mountains play their part in contributing to the Omani cultural and heritage experience.
So, it came as no surprise when in recognition of the Sultanate’s rich cultural heritage, the UNESCO declared Muscat the Arab Culture Capital in 2006. With Muscat chosen as Arab world’s cultural capital, the significance of the Sultanate of Oman’s historical past and civilisation was showcased to the world.
The Omani government was able to stimulate the private sector and national associations to play a greater role in the culture and to activate the cooperation among all the cultural sectors in the Sultanate. The designation helped activate the cultural communication between the Sultanate and the world. It also helped show the uniqueness of the Omani culture, to assure the importance of communication among generations and benefit from the national heritage sources and to develop cultural abilities and establish cultural bases.
Plans for construction of a cultural complex were announced along with plans to lay the cornerstone of the Omani National Museum, which will form an important part in the complex. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee selected five Omani aflaaj (water irrigation channels) that were added to its World Heritage List. Over the years, the Ministry of Heritage and Culture has been active to keep the heritage and cultural flag flying high.
Excavations and archaeological studies The Department of Excavations and Archaeological Studies of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture carried out a number of excavations. For example, excavations carried out in the summer of 2006 on Bahla Fort (the Casbah), revealed four underground chambers beneath the fallen rubble from the original walls of the fort surrounding the site of the excavation.
During the latest season, a survey was carried out on a Stone Age site in the Wusta region. The Swiss mission, which began surveying the Huqf and the Duqm areas in the Wusta region in 2007, is aiming to explore the Sultanate’s early Stone Age period on the basis of flint fragments scattered over the site and dating back over 5 thousand years. The survey produced 230 sites.
The Ministry of Heritage and Culture carried out an exploratory dig on the site of Bait Al Maqham Fort in the wilayat of Bausher, which revealed the remains of the walls of a rectangular room with an oven in its centre which is thought to have been used for cooking.
Land of Frankincense sites In ancient times, Oman helped create cultural contacts between civilisations through the frankincense trade and the sites connected with that trade are of exceptional international value.
The government attaches great importance to the country’s archaeological and natural heritage and several of the sites connected to the frankincense trade have been added to the UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage list i.e. Shisr (Wubar), Khor Rori (Sumhuram), Al Baleed Archaeological Park and Wadi Dawkah (frankincense trees) were listed in November 2000 as Land of Frankincense Sites.
The Office of Adviser to His Majesty the Sultan for Cultural Affairs is currently engaged in restoring and developing these sites in collaboration with a number of scientific and academic institutions, universities and UNESCO committees.
Forts and castles Oman’s 500-plus forts, castles and towers are a priority of the government’s building restoration plans. Restoration work has already been successfully completed on the forts of Qazah, Liwa, Bkha, Al Ma’mur, Yanqul, Hafeet and Al Khabourah, as well as on Bait Al Nadd in Madha, Yanqul’s Bait Al Marah quarter and Manah’s Al Bilad quarter. Meanwhile the Ministry of Tourism has completed work on the Taqah Fort – on of the most important forts in the Dhofar and Khasab Fort in Musandam, both of which are now open to visitors.
Cultural activities The Sultanate hosted the Arab culture ministers’ preparatory committee meetings in November 2006, followed by a meeting of the ministers responsible for cultural affairs in various Arab states. Discussions at this conference, which is held every two years and organised by the Arab League Educational, Cultural and scientific Organisation in coordination with the member states, focused on cultural issues in the Arab World. A special seminar was held on the late and internationally renowned Egyptian born writer Naguib Mahfouz in December 2006.
Arts activities The Ministry of Heritage and Culture supports the theatre, the cinema and the arts and is involved in the active encouragement of budding talents in these fields. The Ministry organises and funds cultural weeks and a range of other initiatives, including often offering prizes and financial incentives. Currently, the ministry oversees 17 non-government theatre groups across the country in addition to seven youth groups.
The Ministry of Heritage and Culture supports folklore troupes and encourages their performances at local festivals organised by the ministry and other government departments, as well as at Omani cultural weeks abroad. Thanks to this policy, there are currently over 200 folklore troupes in various parts of the country.
Cultural weeks Several cultural events were celebrated in Oman in 2006. An Egyptian Cultural Week started the ball rolling in May 2006, followed by designated Brunei Cultural Days in July, an Algerian Week followed by a Moroccan Cultural Week in November and two cultural weeks in December, one organised by the United Arab Emirates, the other by Yemen.
Omani Cultural Weeks organised by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture to present the Sultanate to other countries began with several Omani Cultural Days in Paris in 2006, followed by cultural weeks in Tunis in September and in Riyadh in December. In 2007, the Sultanate held an Omani Cultural Week in Algiers in April. The cultural weeks are held within the framework of cultural agreements and cooperation programmes. The Oman encyclopaedia project
The Oman encyclopaedia is designed to be a comprehensive reference work on Oman and its people and will cover the country’s history as well as its society, arts, literature, geology, climate, flora, fauna and other features. During the preparatory stage from mid-2004 to the end of 2005, a working group carried out an initial survey of the subject headings that could be included in the encyclopaedia and came up with around 8,000.
The implementation stage involves recruiting researchers and specialist writers in the Sultanate and abroad to contribute material, then collated and revised under the supervision of the Oman Encyclopaedia Committee. The project is due for completion in November 2010.
The Ministry of Culture and Heritage is involved in many activities which promotes and preserves its deep-rooted history and ancient heritage that has archaeological paintings, documents, coins, castles, forts, houses and sites that dazzle the mind with unique architecture.