Thursday, December 13: This morning, Mario and I meet in Izki to explore the old walled town, situated on a bluff overlooking Wadi Halfayn, with mountains on either side. The old town is an extensive warren of disintegrating mudbrick buildings, enclosed within a huge rectangle of solid walls. The walls are still standing strong, unlike many of the dilapidated buildings inside.
Izki is popularly claimed to be the oldest town in Oman, according to The Rough Guide to Oman, and was also notorious for its intrigues between two tribes, the Yamani and the Nizari. Until quite recent times, relations between these two communities remained strained. The Yamani are southern Arabs who claim their origins in Yemen and migrated to Oman between the 2nd century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. The Nizari are northern Arabs who migrated to Oman from what is now the Nejd in central Saudi Arabia. According to The Rough Guide, Yamani-Nizari rivalries proved a longstanding feature of Omani history, right up to recent decades.
We walk quite a way around the perimeter of the wall trying to find an entrance. When we finally do, we make our way through the alleys that used to make up the old village. The lack of color is one of the distinguishing features of the brown town. I keep poking into buildings to see if any of the walls were painted, like some of the houses at Wadi Bani Habib on Jebel Akdhar, but this village seems like a poor man’s version of that town; it seems to have been built of less solid materials, with rough workmanship. It lacks any color whatsoever.
Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.
Only in a well-preserved mosque on a raised platform do we find a splash of color in a red-painted wooden roof decorated with fragments of text from the Quran. Inside the mosque are a pair of sturdy columned arches, looking much like Roman ruins, and quite a large mihrab (a niche in the wall of a mosque or a room in the mosque that indicates Mecca’s direction).
We wander through streets laid out in a kind of grid pattern, poking our heads into various homes, some with original carved wooden doors and beamed roofs, many caving in. Some houses have wild green plants growing inside them. We don’t know when this village was abandoned, but it may be guessed that it was abandoned after the Sultan took over in 1970.
At the far end of the village, we come to a very large mosque with no roof, but with two lines of long stone arches on chunky circular columns and a rustic mihrab and minbar (a pulpit in the mosque where the iman, or prayer leader, stands to deliver sermons).
After leaving the old village in my car, we take many wrong turns and dead ends searching for a cave that is supposedly located along the banks of the wadi. There are no signs, as is typical in Oman, and we can never find it. We end up on numerous other dead-end streets until we find ourselves trapped in a box with no easy way out. A young Omani man comes and takes over my car, maneuvering it backwards out of the spot, scraping my passenger side mirror on one of the houses. While all this happens, hordes of village children swarm out of the woodwork, getting a good laugh out of our predicament.
By 11:30 a.m. our walk is over, and I return home, where I put on my pajamas and stay sequestered in my house for the remainder of the weekend, trying to recover from a party I went to on Wednesday night. 🙂