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bibi maryam l maryam bibi l bibi maryam’s tomb l who is bibi maryam l bibi maryam history

Bibi Maryam’s Tomb is an archi­tec­tur­al and cul­tur­al won­der which exists because of the undy­ing love between two people. The rus­tic and his­to­ried build­ing is sit­u­at­ed in Qal­hat, Oman. It ris­es out of the sands of the desert to awe vis­i­tors with its his­to­ry and significance. As an impres­sive build­ing con­struct­ed for love, Bibi Maryam’s Tomb is often referred to as the Taj Mahal of the Gulf but remains rel­a­tive­ly unknown and unhin­dered by tourist hordes. Its iso­la­tion has allowed it to remain rel­a­tive­ly intact, and it offers the vis­i­tor a chance to trav­el back in time to the ancient cul­ture of this region of Oman and the Gulf. The entic­ing rel­ic is also known as The Mau­soleum of Lady Maryam and dates back to the 13th century. For­tu­nate­ly for vis­i­tors and lovers of love, Bibi Maryam’s Tomb is receiv­ing inten­sive restora­tion work and is expect­ed to be fin­ished soon and to be open to tourists.

UNESCO recognition

The ancient city of Qal­hat and the tomb are cur­rent­ly under con­sid­er­a­tion for UNESCO recog­ni­tion. A ten­ta­tive list­ing, accord­ing to UNESCO, is “an inven­to­ry of those prop­er­ties which each State Par­ty intends to con­sid­er for nom­i­na­tion. Nom­i­na­tions to the World Her­itage List will not be con­sid­ered unless the nom­i­nat­ed prop­er­ty has already been includ­ed on the State Par­ty’s Ten­ta­tive List.” In its peti­tion, the Per­ma­nent Del­e­ga­tion of the Sul­tanate of Oman to UNESCO stated,  “the ancient city of Qal­hat stands as a unique tes­ti­mo­ny on cul­tur­al tra­di­tions and an ancient civ­i­liza­tion” and that it “is an out­stand­ing exam­ple for an ear­ly typ­i­cal city port rep­re­sent­ing impor­tant stages in the his­to­ry of mankind. There is no oth­er har­bour site on the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la where remains of the 13 ‑15 cen­tu­ry can be com­pa­ra­bly com­pre­hen­sive­ly stud­ied, nei­ther at Al Balid, Mus­cat, Sur, or Sohar.”

bibi maryam l maryam bibi l bibi maryam’s tomb l who is bibi maryam l bibi maryam history

The Noble Lady, Bibi translates as ‘Noble Lady,’ but who was Bibi Maryam?

The sto­ry and iden­ti­ty of Bibi Maryam have many vari­a­tions. The absence of defin­i­tive his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments hin­ders the search for accu­ra­cy but adds a mys­tique to the story. One the­o­ry is that she was the wife of Baha al-Din Ayaz, who was a slave to the King of the Hor­muz Empire. The king’s rule encom­passed the city of Qal­hat, which was once a major trad­ing port and the cap­i­tal of Oman before the mod­ern cap­i­tal, Mus­cat, took precedence. A more thor­ough inves­ti­ga­tion of his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments tells us that Bibi Maryam also gov­erned Qal­hat. Bibi Maryam’s hus­band was appar­ent­ly entrust­ed to be the gov­er­nor of Qal­hat by the King. He occu­pied this role until he returned to Per­sia, and at that point, he installed Bibi Maryam as gov­er­nor of the city. Ayaz even­tu­al­ly retired in Qal­hat in 1312 CE and is thought to have died three years lat­er. Bibi Maryam thus ruled the town until her death, the exact date of which is not known.

bibi maryam l maryam bibi l bibi maryam’s tomb l who is bibi maryam l bibi maryam history

Another theory is somewhat more sinister!

This ver­sion states that Bibi Maryam was ini­tial­ly the wife of Shi­hab Ud-Din Muham­mad, who ruled over Qal­hat. How­ev­er, appar­ent­ly, Bibi was not con­tent with her hus­band as she was ambi­tious and eager for more pow­er and influence. As a con­se­quence, she is report­ed to have poi­soned Shi­hab Ud-Din Muham­mad, and sub­se­quent­ly mar­ried Abul­makarim Rukn Ud-Din Mah­mud, whom she con­sid­ered a more suit­able companion. The love between Bibi Maryam and her hus­band (or hus­bands) is unde­ni­able and has been record­ed in many tales and poems through gen­er­a­tions. What is not so clear is the rea­son that the mau­soleum was built.

Why was it built?

bibi maryam l maryam bibi l bibi maryam’s tomb l who is bibi maryam l bibi maryam history

bibi maryam l maryam bibi l bibi maryam’s tomb l who is bibi maryam l bibi maryam history

There are two dif­fer­ent the­o­ries, and both relate to love. Quite sim­ply, some peo­ple believe that the king built the struc­ture as a shrine to his wife, while oth­ers believe that Bibi Maryam built the tomb for her husband. Vis­i­tors can con­tem­plate and attempt to answer this ques­tion as they wan­der through the site, or enjoy being ensconced with­in four walls of pure love. A vis­it may also be accom­pa­nied by an excerpt from the love sto­ries of Qais and Laila or those of Antar and Alba.

Where is the tomb?

The tomb sits near the ocean in Qal­hat, which is 20 km north of Sur, in the Ash Shar­qiyah Region of north­east­ern Oman. Qal­hat lies about two hours from Mus­cat. Curi­ous souls will also need to be alert and some­what adven­tur­ous because the tomb may not be eas­i­ly vis­i­ble from the high­way, which runs between Mus­cat and Sur. Even though the tomb over­looks the ocean, it remains rel­a­tive­ly hid­den from the main road, so it is nec­es­sary to do some research upon arrival in Oman to locate it. Reach­ing the site requires a degree of effort, but the 20–30-minute walk uphill though the desert rewards those brave enough to tack­le it, with the view of an ancient won­der. Be sure to car­ry drink­ing water and wear a hat!

Visual appeal

Pho­tog­ra­phers will rel­ish the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cap­ture the ancient façade and the intri­cate detail­ing of the inte­ri­or, against the back­drop of the desert, the moun­tains, and the stark blue of the sea. His­to­ry buffs will enjoy the chance to step into a piece of liv­ing his­to­ry and wit­ness first-hand a reminder of times past. Vis­i­tors can also explore the entire site and dis­cov­er hid­den gems and sec­tions of the struc­ture while attempt­ing to explain each pas­sage­way’s pur­pose and func­tion. Every­one who enters can stand and admire the craftsmanship. The tomb stands at 30 meters tall and 25 meters deep and sits at the end of a 20–30-minute hike. It con­sists of a base­ment and an under­ground cor­ri­dor, which adds mys­tery and intrigue to the sto­ry and any visit. For vis­i­tors ascend­ing the track to the tomb in the present day, it is pos­si­ble to lose one­self in time and imag­ine the ships enter­ing and exit­ing the port below and unload­ing their goods. The hus­tle and bus­tle of the past con­trast stark­ly with the peace­ful beach­es of the present, and onlook­ers can now look down upon the tran­quil blue sea.

Still standing

bibi maryam l maryam bibi l bibi maryam’s tomb l who is bibi maryam l bibi maryam history

bibi maryam l maryam bibi l bibi maryam’s tomb l who is bibi maryam l bibi maryam history

The tomb is the last rem­nant of a once-thriv­ing port city and fort, which attract­ed traders through­out the world, includ­ing Mar­co Polo. It was also men­tioned by the Omani trav­eller and explor­er Ibn Bat­tuta, who talked of it “occu­py­ing a lofty posi­tion over the port” He described the city as “hav­ing fine bazaars, and an exceed­ing­ly beau­ti­ful mosque with elab­o­rate enam­elled tilework.”

Mystery mosque

Anoth­er ele­ment of mys­tery sur­round­ing Maryam’s tomb relates to Ibn Battuta’s ref­er­ence to a beau­ti­ful mosque. Some observers believe the mosque to which Ibn Bat­tuta refers is actu­al­ly Maryam’s tomb, while oth­ers argue that there is insuf­fi­cient evi­dence to prove that the tomb was the mosque that so cap­ti­vat­ed the Omani explorer. Some his­to­ri­ans believe that Ibn Bat­tuta was refer­ring to anoth­er mosque locat­ed in the port city, clos­er to the shore, which was destroyed when the Por­tuguese attacked the city and destroyed many of its build­ings, which have nev­er been restored.

This conflicting history adds yet a further mystery to the site

The his­to­ry books also tell us that the site of the tomb was home to the Azi­di peo­ple who estab­lished the port and were known for grow­ing dates and light grains. The port city itself was known to sailors and traders as Calatu. bibi maryam l maryam bibi l bibi maryam’s tomb l who is bibi maryam l bibi maryam history

A worthwhile journey!

A trip to Bibi Maryam’s Tomb could also include a detour to oth­er mem­o­rable sites. Sit­ting with­in reach of the mau­soleum are Wadi Shab and Bimah Sinkhole. Trek along the val­ley in Wadi Shab and enjoy the site of the palm-lined gorge full of water­falls. Pass through ancient ruins and vil­lages before cool­ing off for a well-earned rest in the cool waters. Extend the trip and plunge into the turquoise Bimah Sink­hole, which is a tru­ly mem­o­rable expe­ri­ence involv­ing a swim through a nar­row keyhole. You can also enjoy a pic­nic in the gorge or make anoth­er stop at Fins beach to look out over azure waters, which con­trast beau­ti­ful­ly with the rugged, desert shore­line. Tours to the region and Bibi Maryam’s Tomb can be orga­nized in Mus­cat or Sur, either through a tour group or by hir­ing a car. Oman offers very lit­tle in the way of pub­lic trans­port, which exists in oth­er countries. Bibi Maryam’s Tomb is shroud­ed in mys­tery and con­flict­ing views of his­to­ry. It is a site of unde­ni­able cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance and is in the process of being restored. Access to the site is cur­rent­ly chal­leng­ing, but the impend­ing restora­tion work may improve access and allow more peo­ple to vis­it the site and admire the archi­tec­tur­al, his­tor­i­cal, and cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance of the tomb. The mau­soleum of the noble lady is all that stands of the once-bustling port city of Qal­hat. It stands proud­ly in the desert over­look­ing the sea as a reminder of that era, and ulti­mate­ly it stands as a tes­ta­ment to love.
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