Oman has been a crossroads of commerce for millennia, with ideas flowing from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf, and across the Indian Ocean. 3rd Millennium BCE Akkadian traders came here from Mesopotamia for copper, Petra’s Nabateans for incense. Greek and Roman merchants rode the monsoon winds that blew them to India and back, and Arab seafarers used it as a base for trade to East Africa. Later, it would be Omani sailors piloting the Portuguese and Dutch explorers expanding the then known world.
Always there was the to and fro of caravans across the sands of the Empty Quarter connecting Arabia with the Mediterranean, through trading hubs such as Iram of the Pillars, the legendary lost city of Ubar, swallowed by the sands of the Empty Quarter around AD 300.
The story of Oman is still that of interaction between coastal settlements based around lush wadis and the fertile fringe, and the societies of the proto- and true desert beyond the shielding hills and mountains. Its archaeology has only recently begun to be understood, but is now known to include a rich prehistory of Bronze Age tombs and Iron Age fortresses as well as Classical period trading settlements, and the mosques and emporia of the Islamic Age. Finally, the coastal forts and souqs of the Sultanate were built to control an empire which stretched across the Gulf and along the African coast south to Zanzibar.
Travelling from the mountains of Muscat to beaches of Salalah, we will visit Bronze Age conical tombs at Bat (World Heritage Site), Rock Art in Nakher, copper smelting sites at Samad and the vital irrigation systems of the Iron Age. We explore the hub of Classical Arabia Felix, the great incense city of Sumhuram with a special drive out into the Empty Quarter to take us to the site of the lost city of Ubar, both entrepots of the Frankincense trade. Wander the ruins of the great Islamic port city of Al Balid.
Passing through spectacular landscapes we travel from the rugged peaks and canyons of the northern mountains to the southern and eastern coast (where we can learn of nesting Green Turtles), through desert, and groves of Frankincense trees at Salalah, with her green wadis, waterfalls and date-palm groves.
Your Departure date
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Day 1 - London - Muscat
We fly from London to Muscat. After checking into our hotel, we meet as a group for dinner.
|Hotel||Al Falaj Hotel, Muscat|
Day 2 - Muscat
We spend a full day in Muscat, an ancient trading city, noted by the geographer Ptolemy in the 2nd century and at times part of the Sassanid Persian Empire. Visits in the morning include the Grand Mosque, the Bawshar Iron Age archaeological site with examples of late Lizq and early Samad period honeycomb tombs, and take time to wander through the labyrinthine alleyways of Muttrah Souq. In the afternoon we take a short drive to the Al Alam Palace followed by a visit to the National Museum of the Sultanate of Oman, which showcases the nation’s heritage from the earliest human settlement through to the present day.
|Hotel||Al Falaj Hotel, Muscat|
|Meals included||All meals included|
Day 3 - Muscat - Nizwa
Today we travel in 4x4s through date palm orchards to Al Hazm fort Al Ayn and the UNESCO Site of Bat where we discover the extraordinary Bronze Age beehive tombs. The tombs are part of a major copper mining settlement of the Umm-an Nar culture of the 3rd millennium BC. This region of Oman was a vital centre of early metallurgy, the ore being exported as far as Mesopotamia and smelting taking place regionally. The distinctive 'beehive' dry stone tombs form an enormous necropolis. We continue to the historic walled town of Nizwa for the night.
Day 4 - Nizwa
We drive to the quaint village of Al Hamra, nestled in the foothills of the Jabel Ahkdar. Its old multi-storied mud houses are surrounded by a vast expanse of lush green date plantations. We visit nearby Has’t Ben Sult, a large rock covered with engravings of men, women, and children, to which much folklore of the region is related. On to Wadi Ghul, home of the traditional weavers of Oman, and then to Wadi Nakher, Oman’s deepest canyon to see rock art and Bronze Age tombs. Our next stop is Misfah, a lovely village with stone houses precariously clinging to the side of the mountain cliff where we enjoy a picnic lunch. Afterwards we’ll explore the Falaj irrigation system.
Day 5 - Nizwa
Today we make our way to Wadi Tanuf, set against the backdrop of the Al Hajar mountains. Here we’ll enjoy a short walk to see rock art and Hafit (Early Bronze Age) tombs. Nizwa, capital of the ancient Imamate of Oman, an ancient centre of trade in the pre-desert and the birthplace of Islam. We visit the famous Round Tower Fort, built in the seventeenth century, and its souq, renowned for its intricately hand-carved khanjars (daggers) and ornamental silver jewelry. After lunch in Al Mandi we drive to Jabrin with its beautiful painted murals; more of a fortified palace than a fort, it was built in the 17th century by Bil’arub bin Sultan, one of the Imam princes of Nizwa as a retreat and became a centre of Islamic scholarship and learning. We conclude our day in Iron Age Salut, near Bisyah an archaeological site home to an ancient fortified collection of ruins and fortifications, some of which date to over 3,000 years ago, and which offer rare evidence of the development civilizations in the Arabic peninsula in the Bronze and Iron ages.
Day 6 - Nizwa - Ras al Jinz
The archaeological site of Lizq in Ash Sharqiyah is our first visit today. Discovered in 1979 the hill fort here has pottery similar to Early Iron Age sites. An interesting change from site visits, the traditional weavers in Akhdar is an opportunity to see a small family-run business with fascinating makeshift tools (a bicycle wheel for spinning the wool, parts of a syringe for holding the thread in place etc) - the only manufacturers of the Sultan’s turbans. We continue to Samad for a picnic lunch, an oasis town famed for its seven watch towers, its third millennium BC copper smelting place has furnace fragments and slag dotted about the wadi floor. We travel onto Ras al Jinz for an overnight stay at the turtle conservation centre where if we are fortunate, we may see nesting turtles.
|Hotel||Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve, Oman|
|Meals included||All meals included|
Day 7 - Ras al Jinz - Salalah
The town of Ras al-Hadd is located on the east coast of Oman facing the Indian Ocean at what was an important ancient trading point between East Africa, the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula. Located here is a range of archaeological sites with evidence of settlement dating as far back as the Chalcolithic (Copper) Age (about 3,000 BC). Onto Sur, a famous trading port south of Muscat, briefly a Portuguese colony, and to visit the major shipyard. The lateen sailed Dhow, the classic ship of Arabian seas, is still constructed in the yards here. These vessels were the mainstay of trade for centuries, plying as far as China and Zanzibar. We then head back to Muscat via Wadi Tiwi for out flight to Salalah.
Day 8 - Salalah
Today starts at Khor Rori Creek and the ruined city of Sumhuram, on a bluff overlooking the sea. This was an eastern outpost of the Arabian kingdom of Hadramawt whose centre was to the west, in modern Yemen, and was the capital of the frankincense trade before the coming of Islam. We’ll visit the museum here before heading to the nature park Wadi Darbat for lunch while we enjoy majestic views of waterfalls, lakes, mountains, caves, wildlife and lush vegetation. Afterwards in Mirbat, an important town as early as the ninth century for its trade in frankincense, horses, and slaves, we explore old houses famous for their woodcarvings. We’ll also reflect here on the 1972 military campaign in Oman, in particular the legendary battle at Mirbat. We stop at Bin Ali’s Tomb, a fine example of medieval architecture, on our return to Salalah.
Day 9 - Salalah
We start today at Hanun, a depot along the frankincense routes, and the nearby, 5th-century B.C. triliths (groups of three stones perched together). Driving into Rub Al Khali, the empty quarter we reach the fabled city of Ubar - Iram of the Pillars at Shisr. Once a crossroads of the frankincense trade across Arabia, Ubar vanished beneath the sands around AD 300 and became a place of myth and Koranic legend. Searches for the vanished city in the 20th century amongst the great dunes proved fruitless, though ancient caravan routes and tracks were occasionally revealed by drifting sands. An expedition and excavation in 1992, partly based on satellite imaging, found an ancient fortified spring which, while clearly not the ‘Atlantis of the Sands’, might well be the origin of the myth. On the way back to Salalah we will visit a Frankincense tree plantation.
Day 10 - Salalah
Today we explore Al Balid, or the ancient port city of Zafar. It is the site of the first archaeological park in Oman, and is today part of the UNESCO World Heritage Land of Frankincense. Walking around the ruins, we see remains of watchtowers, pylons of a bridge, and foundations of houses, souqs, and mosques. The site museum houses an excellent collection of finds and frankincense. In the afternoon we travel through a spectacular landscape of plains, mountains, and pastureland to visit the biblical “Nabi Ayoub” Prophet Job’s Tomb, perched high in the mountains.
Day 11 - Salalah - Muscat - London
We leave Salalah and travel to Muscat for our onward flight back to the UK.
Tour dates & prices
Included in your cost:
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Professional Tour Manager
- Local travel aboard a private air-conditioned coach
- Meals as per the itinerary, tea or coffee with dinner
- Entries to all sites as per the itinerary
- All taxes & gratuities
- Field notes
|Tour Departure||Tour ID||Departure date||Return Date||Guided by||Price||Deposit||Single Supp.||Offer||Availability|
|7 February 2020||AOMA200207||7 February 2020 (Friday)||17 February 2020 (Monday)||Nick Jackson Anna Vigetti||£4,395
|£500||£995||Call for availability|
|6 November 2020||AOMA201106||6 November 2020 (Friday)||16 November 2020 (Monday)||Nick Jackson||£4,395