Drive across the wild, arid plains of northern Oman and you’ll encounter all kinds of settlements; there are wealthy, gated, immaculately presented mansions sitting by themselves in a sea of sand, there are oasis villages surrounded by green date palms, there are thriving cities like Nizwa, there are quiet, sleepy cities that could pass as ghost towns, and there’s the occasional abandoned mud-brick village, such as the one on the outskirts of Al Hamra.
The abandoned mud-brick village of Al Hamra
The origins of Al Hamra date back some 400 odd years, when the area was settled by the Al Abri tribes (the same Al Abri tribe that settled in nearby Misfat Al Abriyeen).
The mud-brick structures, some of which are up to four storeys in height, are built in what’s known as Yemeni style (i.e. from Yemen).
While walking through town, the engineer in me couldn’t help noticing that one of the main thoroughfares doubles as a stormwater channel (see photo below).
Presumably the channel only flows in the severest of storms, but still, the presence of this flood route is baffling.
Was this stormwater channel always here? Was the town built around it? Why?
It would be incredibly inconvenient to work around when it rained, and whenever it flowed it would erode the walls and foundations of the structures on either side.
It’s even more confusing when you recall how skilled Omanis are at manipulating water flows to their advantage (see the falaj system of irrigation at Misfat Al Abriyeen).
I can’t imagine that diverting these flood waters was beyond their capabilities. Which means the storm water channel flowed through the centre of town because they wanted it to.
The mud-brick village of Al Hamra was in use until relatively recently, as the profusion of overhead electrical cables attest.
Not all of this ancient part of the town was abandoned either; amongst the partially ruined remains are perfectly well maintained houses, still in use.
Perhaps the owners of the abandoned mud-brick dwellings will do the same one day?
Perhaps they’ll return to the old town of Al Hamra and reclaim what they left behind. Perhaps these fantastic structures will be restored, and re-inhabited?
Practical information and how to reach Al Hamra:
Public transport options are extremely limited in Oman. Travellers are best off hiring a car to get around (I say this as someone who would much rather use public transport than drive). More transport info here.