Al Hamra Abandoned Village, Tanuf Castle Ruins, Birkat Al Mouz Ruins… There are numerous “abandoned villages” throughout Oman, and you can spend a whole trip there only visiting those. You will find quite a few in your travel guide, some highly recommended. These old traditional villages were simply abandoned when newer cities were built from scratch over the last 3 to 4 decades, offering modern housing to the Omani population. If they indeed make for an interesting glimpse of what life might have been only one to two generations back, all in all they largely look the same. Far more interesting and still completely below the radars of most visitors, as it only opened shortly before the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, is Harat Al Bilad Heritage Village, about 20 km south of Nizwa (22°47’27.924″ N 57°36’7.218″ E).
When we first arrived, shortly before 09:00 am, we thought we made a mistake, as the site seemed to be closed. We asked at the neighboring market, and someone finally confirmed that it is open for visit… And true, it was, only opening shortly after 09:00 am!
The Heritage Village of Harat Al Bilad (“the old neighborhood”) was once the largest old quarter neighborhood (“Haraah”) in Oman with more than 350 houses and numerous mosques. The unique point is that it is currently being restored in a traditional way and that approx. half of the village, including the fortification walls, are now as they once were and can be visited (as are 4 mosques).
The gate keeper, Salim, is delighted when visitors are there (entrance fees: 1 OMR / person). He is very willing to share his knowledge with the few souls wandering around, but only speaking Arabic… So exchanges are quite awkward, sometimes laborious, but always friendly and sometimes… hilarious! Nonetheless, I think we understood part of the information he was eager to share with us (not fully sure, though), and enjoyed with him Omani coffee and dates at the end of the visit. A true character that added to the experience!
Harat Al Bilad should be on everyone’s itinerary, truly! This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip, especially wandering around this incredible “open air museum” absolutely on our own.