Bibi Maryam’s Tomb is an architectural and cultural wonder which exists because of the undying love between two people.The rustic and historic 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.
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.”
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 The absence of definitive historical documents hinders the search for accuracy but adds a mystique to the story.One theory is that she was the wife of Baha al-Din Ayaz, who was a slave to the King of the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port and the capital of Oman before the modern capital, Muscat, took precedence.A more thorough investigation of historical documents tells us that Bibi Maryam also governed Qalhat.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.
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?
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.