Bibi Maryam’s Tomb: The Taj Mahal of the Gulf

A love shrine in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula.

By Sekka Team

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Taj Mahal isn’t only one of the new seven wonders of the world, but it is also a testament of eternal love.  Built in the 17th century by Mughal King Shah Jahan in loving memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, millions of lovers flock to the city of Agra to visit it every year, and to stand in awe at its beauty.

The Arabian Peninsula is home to some of the Arab world’s most famous love stories such as that of Qais and Laila, and Antar and Abla. The poetry Qais and Antar wrote for their lovers are widely consumed to this day, and are an inspiration for lovers and poets from the region.

But perhaps we don’t need to travel to India to visit a shrine built in the name of love, for on the coastline of Oman lies a structure with a similar story to that of the Taj Mahal.

While it is Oman’s capital today and its hub for commerce and trade, Muscat was not always so. On the eastern coastline of the country, approximately 20 kilometers northwest of Sur, lies Qalhat, a previous capital of Oman, with history dating back to the Bronze Age, and which was placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites at the end of last year.

According to Oman’s Ministry of Tourism, the once fortified coastline city was a major trade hub, one that attracted travellers and merchants to explore it. Famous Italian explorer Marco Polo even described it as a “fine city with bazaars and a beautiful mosque.” Though it flourished between the 11th and 15th centuries, the city was abandoned in the 16th century following attacks by the Portuguese army.

Sitting on a hill, what is remaining from that ancient city today is a 30 meter tall and 25 meter deep building known as “Bibi Maryam’s Tomb”, or “The Mausoleum of Lady Maryam”. You have to hike for nearly 30 minutes to reach it. Built in the 13th century, the building has a basement and underground corridor.

There are different stories about the mausoleum and why it was built. One story states that the King of the Hormuz Empire, Baha al-Din Ayaz, whose rule extended over Qalhat, built it as a shrine for his wife Bibi Maryam. While other stories proclaim the opposite, and that it was Bibi Maryam who built her for her husband, the King.

Thankfully, the ruined structure is getting a face lift, and has recently been undergoing extensive restoration work, scheduled to end in the summer (though the COVID-19 crisis may delay this) .

Will we see thousands of people flocking to visit the location every year? Here’s hoping, for it’s definitely worth a visit!

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