Al-Baleed Archaeological Park is one of the most interesting places to visit in the Salalah area. It is the site of the ancient port city of Zafar. The earliest settlement here dates back to around 2,000 BC, in the Bronze Age. It grew throughout the Iron Age, and you can still see the remains of a house from this period.
The city reached its peak in the 12th century, when it traded with Africa, India and China. Its major export, of course, was frankincense, but it also traded Arabian horses and gold. During the 14th century it was still a major trading port, when it was visited by Ibn Battuta. but, due to changing trade patterns it fell into decline by the mid-16th century.
Arachaeological excavation of the site has mainly taken place since the 1970s. The site covers an area of 64 hectares and there is a broad pathway, measuring 2.2km, which enables visitors to walk past all of the major structures, including the City Wall, Citadel and Grand Mosque. These are atmospherically floodlit at night. So, I would recommend visiting in the late afternoon and early evening so that you can see it both in daylight and artificially illuminated.
Admission, together with the Museum of the Frankincense Land, is just OR 1.
Opening hours: 8am-1pm & 4pm-9pm.
Sumhuram was an important trading port between the 4th century BC and the 4th century AD. Today it is an impressive archaeological site with a beautiful location on a hill, overlooking Khor Ruri and the sea. There are extensive stone walls as well as a temple, residential area, storehouses and gateway to the harbour. A number of finds from the site, including cooking pots, jars and jewellery, are on display in the Museum of the Frankincense Land at Al-Baleed.
Admission OR 1 per vehicle.
Wadi Darbat is one of the most beautiful valleys in the Arabian peninsula. A river flows through here to the sea at Khor Rawri. After heavy rain during the khareef (June-September) there is an impressive waterfall at the southern end of the wadi. The wadi sides are densely forested. Nomads camp on the valley bottom while their herds of camel graze on the lush pastures. You can often see White Storks feeding amongst the camels.
Job's tomb is probably the most important religious site in southern Oman. It is the mausolem of Job of the Old Testament, known as the Prophet Ayub in the Koran. He is probably best known for the misquote "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away."
Both the Bible and the Koran say that he was an enormously rich man whose wealth was taken from him, and who was afflicted with a terrible skin disease, but he never despaired, remained loyal to God and was eventually rewarded by being made even richer and restored to full health. Hence the idiomatic expression, to be as patient as Job. By the way, what Job actually said, according to the Bible, was, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away."
His simple tomb is on a pretty hilltop overlooking Salalah.
The citadel was where the ruler resided. It is just oppsite the grand mosque. The excavated portions include the northern side, which comprised an external wall and a round tower at the wall’s centre. Another tower has been revealed in the north-eastern corner, while the north-western corner was linked by another wall to the main city wall. Excavations continue to uncover other towers on the southern side of the fort.
The citadel consisted of several storeys, surrounded by a wall. The latest excavations have been on the citadel’s southern side, overlooking the grand mosque. A tower, the main entrance and a winding path leading up some stairs to the upper storeys have been revealed. Some of the upper floors have also been excavated. The path leads to some chambers in the north, six of which have already been uncovered. One of these rooms included a stratum of burned ash mixed with bronze, which suggests it may have been a workshop.
Previous sultans, including the current sultan's father, Sultan Said, lived in Salalah, but Sultan Qaboos has moved to Muscat. He still uses the Sultan's Palace in Salalah as his summer residence, however.
The palace, known as Al Husn, was originally built by Sultan Turki in the nineteenth century, but has been extended by successive sultans, and it is now a big, modern complex of buildings, overlooking the beach, south of the city centre. It is surrounded on the landward side by a stone wall and entered through big teak doors. The stretch of beach immediately in front of the palace is off limits to the general public, but you can get quite close and take photographs of the palace. The armed sentry doesn't seem to mind.
The Museum of the Frankincense Land is a very good museum, with all of the exhibits well displayed and labelled in English. It was opened in July 2007 and features two halls: the Maritime Hall and the History Hall. The former has various exhibits relating to Salalah's maritime hisory, ranging from Ming porcelain brought by ship from China to a lifesize section of a dhow, where you can stand at the wheel on the deck.
The History Hall covers the entire history of Oman, and exhibits include prehistoric flints and weapons, artefacts from archaeological sites, such as Al-Baleed and Shisr, ancient korans, lots of frankincense and a section on modern Oman's Renaissance since Sultan Qaboos came to power. Photography is not permitted inside the museum.
Opening hours: 8am-1pm & 4pm-8pm
Wadi Dawkah is a lage area of frankincense trees, which forms a central part of the Land of Frankincense UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than 5000 frankincense trees have been planted in the reserve, which covers and area of more than five square kilometres. Frankly, I found it disappointing. In fact, of the more than one hundred World Heritage Sites I've visited, I'd have to say this was the least interesting. The big frankincense trees in the Dhofar Mountains are far greener and more attractive than the rows of stunted trees that have been planted in this fenced reserve in the desert.
Al-Husn Souq is sometimes also called the Frankincense Souq, as this is one of the main things sold here. In fact, one section of the spouq specializes in frankincense and other types of incense and perfume, while another section sells traditional Omani clothes and textiles. There are also large numbers of tailors' shops here as well as a few simple restaurants.
In downtown Salalah, next to Lulu Shopping Center, is a very unusual tomb. It is the tomb of Nabi Umran, also known as Imran, who was said to be the father of the Virgin Mary, which would make it a very important pilgrimage centre. But, hang on, it is also said that he may have been the father of Moses instead, or somebody good anyway. His stone sarcophagus is 33 m long, which has given rise to speculation that he may also have been a giant.
Anyway, it's a pleasant place, with a small mosque and the building housing the tomb, at the back of which there is a small garden with peacocks, guinea fowl and other birds.
Admission is free, but you will probably find that a self-appointed Indian guard will accompany you in and be happy to receive a small tip. I gave him OR 1 and he was overjoyed and asked me to come back again. I probably will as it's a nice place.
Mughsail Bay has one of the most beautiful beaches in Oman. When I was last there, it was totally deserted, except for thousands of migrating terns. It's a good spot for beach activities and birdwatching. You can combine a visit here with a trip to the blowholes, which are just round the headland at the western end of the bay.
Al Baleed's Grand Mosque was the greatest building in the city. It covered an area of 1,732 sq metres, had 144 stone pillars, a central courtyard and a large minaret, which was at least 5 metres high. The mosque was first built during the 10th century and remained in use until the 16th century. Most of the columns you can see standing today appear to be recent reconstructions, but some of the original columns are laid out on the ground in front of the mosque. Other original features which you can still clearly see are the mihrab and the ablution area.
Khor Ruri, also sometimes transliterated as Khawr Rouri, is a creek just to the east of Taqah. Here the water and reed beds attract a lot of birds, making it a birdwatching hotspot. In fact, nearly 200 species of bird have been recorded here including Greater Flamingos, Spoonbills, Widgeons, Mallards, Shoveler, Garganey, Teals, Spoonbills, Black-tailed Godwits, Ospreys, Great Cormorants, Cotton Teals, Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Grey and Red-necked Phalaropes, Black-winged Stilts, Black-necked Grebes, Little Grebes, Grey Herons, Great Egrets, Squacco Herons, Western Reef Herons, Cattle, Purple Herons, Common Terns, Osprey, Marsh Harriers and Reed Warblers. On my last visit here, I saw many of these, with Flamingos, Spoonbills ansd Ospreys being particularly visible.
The creek was once the site of a frankincense port and on a hill, overlooking it, is the important archaelogical site of Sumhuram.
Burj A'Nahdah, better known in English as the Clocktower, is the most prominent of the monuments which decorate the roundabouts around Salalah. It is a useful landmark for finding your way around by car. Salalah Airport is on the northern exit road and Lulu Shopping Center is just off this roundabout to the south.
To be honest, the modern city of Salalah doesn't have much in the way of attractive monuments or landmark buildings to commend it. Burj A'Nahdah is probably the best there is.
This nineteenth century adobe fort has been so well renovated that it looks as though it was built yesterday. It was originally the residence of the wali, or governor, but it now houses a museum.
Opening hours: Sat-Thurs 9am-4pm, Fri 8am-11am