Locals are too afraid to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site

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This article first appeared on our sister site, independent Arabia

Myths and legends were the main source of fun and escape for our ancestors in times before the Internet, television or radio. The most captivating of these folk stories are those with a supernatural touch, especially those involving ghosts and spirits known as “jinn.”

In Omani folklore, “jinn” are often associated with specific geographical locations. There are legends of a “valley of genies” into which men fear to venture, and of a “city of genies” where mysterious creatures are said to dwell.

One of those cities full of stories of genius is Bahla, located in the heart of the Omani desert, more than a hundred miles from the capital, Muscat. The city, one of the largest in the Ad Dakhiliyah Governorate, is also among the oldest human settlements in the Gulf Sultanate.

supernatural beings

Bahla is a uniquely charming oasis surrounded by palm trees, with abandoned houses made of mud bricks dotted throughout the landscape. However, widespread myths about the presence of jinn, said to be supernatural beings distinct from humans and angels who live alongside humanity, and legends about hyenas eating camels and spirits turning men into donkeys , led many Omanis to name Bahla the “city of jinn”. Therefore, it has become an isolated area that locals rarely visit.

UNESCO Heritage

Bahla Fort was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, making it the first monument in Oman to be added to the list. The listed area encompasses the entire Bahla Oasis, including the Bahla Wall and all the architectural, archaeological and cultural monuments and monuments it contains, whether tangible or intangible. According to local tour guide Hamad Al Rabaani, “Inside the Bahla Fort, which dates back to the Middle Ages and is a World Heritage Site, we believe that jinn are God’s creation, therefore they are not strangers.”

One of the popular myths surrounding Bahla is that supernatural forces built an eight-mile wall around the city in a single night, to protect it from invaders. speaking to independent ArabiaThe 55-year-old tour guide added: “There is a myth about two sisters among geniuses. “One of whom built the wall, while the other created an ancient irrigation system for the crops.”

The idea of ​​geniuses has a significant presence in Arab culture; However, few places are as strongly associated with jinn as Bahla. The tour guide narrates that an old woman heard someone milking her cow after midnight. But every time she went to check it, she didn’t find anyone there. Hamad added: “Geniuses can be heard but never seen, because your mind is unable to comprehend the idea.”

Fear of discredit

As silence falls after midday prayers in the ancient Bahla souk, some residents anxiously discuss the issue of jinn, for which the city is famous, fearing it could tarnish their image. But Mohammad al-Hashemi, a seventy-year-old resident of Bahla, says that for most of his life he has been influenced by beliefs around jinn, and as a child he heard stories about flame-spitting hyenas that roamed the desert in looking for camels to devour.

“They warned us not to go out after sunset because of the magic,” he explained to AFP.

Deep in the Arabian Peninsula

Dr. Ali Olomi, assistant professor of history at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, explains: “Oral traditions and ancient texts indicate that jinn stories are prevalent in the farthest reaches of the Arabian Peninsula. Oman and neighboring Yemen, located at the southern tip of the peninsula, are known not only as ancient lands with significant historical importance, but also as lands of geniuses.”

He adds: “In Bahla, there are stories of imaginary flames and fires, mystical storms in the desert and buildings built by supernatural beings.”

The geographical isolation of this region, surrounded by the desert and the Hajar Mountains, contributed to the spread of these myths. Dr. Olomi notes that “the presence of jinn in places like Bahla is a valuable source of knowledge of the history and culture of the Arabian Peninsula. “These are the stories of a people who lived in remote areas with little connection to other communities and a deep awareness of the natural world around them.”

Growing doubt

Despite the numerous myths about the jinn in the oasis, a generation of young Omanis is not convinced of its existence, including Mazen Al Khateri, 24, who considers the legends “stories told by our ancestors in the past” . “We don’t know if they’re right or wrong.”

However, Hassan, 30, believes these rumors about the oasis still have weight. He says, “My family would never allow me to go to Bahla. Rumors say that it is the city of genies, where these creatures enjoy greater freedom.”

The story of Bahla.

Bahla Oasis is located in the Al Dakhiliyah Governorate of the Sultanate of Oman. It is the ancient name given to the area that extends from the south of the mountains west of Bahla, to Izki. Wadi Bahla borders the oasis to the west, while mountains surround it almost on all sides. Streams flow into the valley and its location has helped it become a bridge between neighboring areas, especially considering its proximity to ancient cultural sites in the Omani state of Ibri.

Archaeological sites

The oasis stands out for its proximity to numerous ancient archaeological sites, such as those found in Bisya, on the banks of the Wadi Bahla, where excavations revealed the presence of circular defensive structures built with stones. Also nearby is Salut, considered one of the most famous sites in Oman’s ancient history.

It is worth noting that excavations carried out by the Sultanate’s Ministry of Heritage and Culture at Bahla Fort in 1993 and 1997 revealed important finds, including the discovery of several settlements. A broken terracotta figurine of a knight on horseback, with influences from the Sassanian dynasty period, was found along with an artifact made of soapstone. In addition, a large ceramic vessel for storing dates or collecting honey, and pieces of local ceramics and Chinese porcelain were also discovered.

Reviewed by Tooba Ali and Celine Assaf

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