Hawra Burghah

Description and information of these impressive ruins in Northern Oman

October 2003

 

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For a description of how to get to these ruins, see wadi Jizzi (2001) and Jizzi 2002

Hilltop fortress Hawra Burghah

Ruins on top of the hill

Miles, 1877, On the route between Sohar and El-Bereymi in Oman, with a note on the Zatt, or gypsies in Arabia. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1877).

Miles’ description of Jebel Gharabeh (Hawra Burghah):

“ The ruins of the citadel of Oman…

The hill is not high, perhaps 250 or 300 feet, but is very steep and inaccessible, and there being no semblance of a road I was glad to accept the assistance of the bedouins, who are as agile as cats and clamber about the most difficult places. Around the summit, which is irregular, are traceable the ruins of these fortifications extending perhaps for half a mile. The wall still stands in places, from two to six feet high, and it is possible to trace the outline of part of the buildings at the highest point, though the greater part are an undistinguishable heap of ruins. Along the line of fortification at intervals were small circular towers, several of which are still Conspicuous. The thickness of the walls was uniformly about three feet, and they are constructed entirely of rough fragments of the rock of which the upper part of the hill is composed, a white oolitic limestone, cemented with clay, and I could detect only three places in which mortar had been used at all. These were an arch in the wall, the curbstones in the path that led down the bill and the water cisterns. One of these cisterns, of which there are two, is quite at the summit, and is in shape an oblong, constructed of round pebbles cemented and plastered with mortar. The other is oval shaped and of similar construction. It is lower down the hill. Both these tanks are small and shallow, and in such good condition, that, if cleaned out, they might still be serviceable. There are no signs of wells having been sunk that I could see ; indeed, the quality of the rock precludes the idea of such an experiment. Somewhat below the highest point is a low arch in the wall, built of selected stones cemented together, and was not improbably that of the gateway, as it is just over the road. There is one other arch in a tower still lower down, but it is made with long slabs placed together uncemented. Only a few yards of the roadway are traceable near the top, the rest is entirely obliterated. It probably wound round the greater part of the hill. It was very narrow, and is faced at the edge with curbstones. It was at the extreme summiit where the outline is best preserved, that the residence of the Chief or Governor probably stood, but to judge from the heap of stones in situ, the building was apparently of no great extent ; perhaps a small stone house fur the Chief and rude shelter for the garrison were all that was needed, From its position and strength, however the importance of the castle is sufficiently apparent, and it was doubtless considered quite impregnable in those days of slings and bows, while it of course commanded the whole plain of Sohar from hence to the sea.

According to the tradition of the Arabs, and related to me by Sheikh Rashid and confirmed by Seyyid Turki and others, the castle at Jebel Gharabeh, as well as the city of Oman, were founded by ,Julanda.bin-Karkar, under whom the city covered a great part of the maritime plain lying between Jebel Gharábeh and the sea ; but there is no doubt that both the ruins of el-Gharábeh and the city are much anterior to the time of the Julandaites…..

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Map of the ruins at Hawra Burghah, note the access to the northeast of the hill and cisterns with waterflows drawn in blue (taken from Sohar Fort Museum, 1996, published by the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture, Sultanate of Oman)

Hawra Burghah is a medieval fortress, dominating the entrance to wadi Jizzi, situated on a steep hill of 200 m high. Its drystone walls on top of the hill are clearly recognisable from afar. The ascent of the hill is steep and best doable from the north, where the wall has a breach. The original entrance was to the northeast. The ruins are surprisingly extensive and the view above is rewarding (including an overview of the wadi Jizzi dam). Hawra means 'white limestone' in Arabic and Burghah is Persian for 'garden'. Burghah is also the local name of the wadi that the fortress overlooks. A complex system of dams and terraces to contain and conserve water, is still recognisable within the ruins. 

The story of Hawra Burghah is closely connected to the expension of the powersphere of the princes of Hormuz in the Middle ages.  By increasing their control of the maritime commerce in the Arabian Sea and the Arabian gulf this originally small island in the bottleneck between the Arabian Sea and the Gulf managed to dominate the whole area. The princes of Hormuz  forced all merchant ships to pay custom duties and taxes in the Gulf ports which they all had conquered. As the Persian historian Wassaf described in the 13th century AD: "when the merchandise arrives from the Far East and from India, officials and agents prevent all trading and keep back for the Prince anything that is of interest. This they send to Hormuz on their own ships  and there too, no one may trade until after the agents of the prince have made their choice, particularly of costly goods". To evade these customs restrictions many ships diverted to Omani ports, forcing the prince of Hormuz to attempt the conquest of the whole of Oman, between Qalhat their powerbase in the Arabian Gulf and Hormuz. During this period Oman was ruled by a dynasty of hereditary kings, called the Nabahina. They tried to resist the invasions of the Hormuzis by constructing several forts for refuge at the foothills of the mountains. The strongest of these was Hurgha Burghah, dominating the access to wadi Jizzi and the important harbour of Sohar.  Finally Hormuz conquered the entire Omani coast and built a strong fortress at Sohar. These events took place in the late 13th and early 14th century AD.

View towards the highest point of Hawra Burghah. Remnants of water channels leading to cisterns can still be recognised between the ruined walls.

Water Cistern with overflow (opposing wall). Note waterproof lining still in place, covering the lower parts of the cistern


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@ J. Schreurs October  2003