Adam Town and the Beauty of its Deserted Neighbourhoods

Published on Wednesday 13th, Jun 2018
Oman, mud houses, palm trees, mosque, traditional, architecture
Panorama of Adam’s old neighbourhoods from the roof of one of the houses

It was already mid-day when we reached Adam town in Oman. We had been driving for hours on the cardinal highway that connects Muscat with Salalah, and, coming from the direction of the south, we had been drained by the dull, barren landscape of the desert. Adam was the first oasis on our way to the north as we entered the more fertile and mountainous region of the country, and its extensive palm-tree groves were refreshing to the eyes and hearts alike.

Adam, Oman
Palm-tree groves with a sample of the falaj system on the bottom right corner

Although it was still January, the day was warm and, by the time we parked our cars in search of a sign that would direct us towards the recently amply-featured old neighbourhoods of the town, most residents had receded to the shade of their homes, and the streets laid deserted and silent. Yet, one is never left unaided in Oman, and by a kind of divine serendipity that seems to be inherent in the land, a local always emerges as if out of thin air, extending a helping hand. In this case, a group of colourfully-dressed Bedouin girls who appeared to flutter, like exotic birds, across the street, offered the first directions, introducing us later to Mahmoud and Ahmed: two young Omanis who happened to be passing by and who volunteered to spend the rest of their day as our guides.

Oman, Bedouin
Young girls in Adam town

Driving for a few minutes through narrow roads surrounded by palm trees, we reached the old districts which, until thirty years ago, were still bustling with life but have been abandoned ever since in favour of the modern town and its amenities. A cluster of several neighbourhoods unfolded amidst the groves, connected through a maze of lanes – some small, some wide – that were confined on either side by the mud-brick walls of the decrepit residences. We passed under arches, crossed over numerous aflaj (the traditional irrigation system of Oman), stooped through little doors, climbed staircases to the roofs, squatted next to wells, and groped the decorated walls and ceilings. The desolation of the district was in sharp contrast with the lively malachite shades of the arable land that encircled the old town, and, amidst the stillness, we allowed ourselves to indulge in the deceptive, yet utterly delicious, impression that we were the pioneers to discover this Omani ghost town.

Oman, mud houses
Panorama of Adam old town – the modern town at the background
Oman, mud houses, traditional architecture
In the old neighbourhoods of Adam town
mud houses, traditional architecture
Adam town, Oman
Adam town, Oman
Arches and alleys

Given the language barrier and the limited available research or written documentation about the history of most Gulf countries, the information on Adam is restricted and, maybe, imprecise. According to prevailing opinion, the name of the city translates into “fertile land.” During our brief visit, we ambled through the alleys of the area that, I think, is called Harrat Al Hawashim – one of the many old neighbourhoods that look alike with each other – and ended up in Harrat Al Jamii, which is now under restoration as it hosts, among other buildings, the house of Imam Ahmed bin Said Busaidi (1744-1783): the founder of the Al Busaidi dynasty and the ancestor of the current ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

Our Omani guides and a friend of theirs who joined along, walking the streets of Adam old town
Oman, mud houses
Adam town, an old traditional door in the background.
Adam town, Oman, Mosque, traditional architecture
The beautiful mihrab in the restored district of Harrat al Jamii

The old Adam town offers an impressive sample of traditional Omani architecture. The houses were built with mud-bricks, their windows overlooking only towards the streets, protecting the privacy of the lodgers. The residential rooms were on the upper floors, while the ground floors were used for storage of food or animals and were sometimes protecting the wells that were supplying the families with water. Many walls were decorated with primitive, vibrant designs which, despite the years, have not faded away, while the wooden beams of the ceilings still bear either lines from the Quran (written in similarly vivid colours) or notes relating to the latest restoration dates by the initial owners. Occasionally, one stumbles upon a forgotten metallic door with geometric designs painted in various shades – like the ones a visitor frequently encounters in many rural areas of Oman and the U.A.E.

Oman, mud houses, architecture
Upper floors in the old neighbourhoods of Adam town
Adam town, Oman
A cool area on the ground floor for storage of food (old-type refrigerator)
Adam, Oman
Building with decorated walls as seen from above
Adam town, Oman, old districts, mud houses
Decorated ceiling
Adam town, Oman, traditional architecture
Decorated ceiling
Oman, Adam, old neighbourhoods, mud houses, traditional architecture
Decorated walls and ceiling
Adam, town
Typical metallic door encountered in Oman and the UAE

The juvenile playfulness – another characteristic intrinsic in the Omani culture – took the better of our guides who, after showing us around, decided to climb on the old watchtower (hanging from the rope that represents the traditional entry method used in most watchtowers) as well as on several trees, beguiling us all and managing to engage the most adventurous of us. A pot of coffee and a bowl of dates manifested themselves out of nowhere, and we spent quite some time resisting Mahmoud’s tempting invitation for a barbeque dinner at his home, where we were also welcomed to spend the night. Still, our tight agenda plus the feeling that our group was too large to take advantage of the hospitable proposal, forced us to continue our way.

Adam, Oman
Mahmoud climbing down the watchtower using the rope
Adam, Oman
Mahmoud climbing a tree
Oman, Gulf states, Gulf
Coffee and dates – a “must” of the Khaleeji hospitality

Our last stop was at the open area next to the town’s souq where the sun clock that is still used to regulate the operation of the falaj system (*) lies. A series of vertical poles – each representing a specific farmer – are positioned on the ground, and as the sun moves, the shifting shadows indicate the exact time the water channels should open or close for the irrigation of specific fields, achieving thus a fair distribution of water among the whole community.

Adam, Oman, falaj system, irrigation
Ahmed explaining the operation of the sun clock on the ground

The sun was setting, and the call for prayer was echoing through the streets as we finally drove off. For a while, we could still see the town delineating against the twilight, its sand-coloured walls reflecting the roseate hues of the winter sky. Despite the fast evolution that the Gulf States experience over the past decades, some places continue to linger in mystical pockets of time where seasons unfold at a slower pace and a few select towns lie with the elegance of a desert gazelle breathing calmly into the universe. Adam is undoubtedly such a town.


(*) Falaj (in the plural: aflaj) is the ancient irrigation system used in Oman (and in some places in the UAE as well) to transfer water from the mountainous areas towards the fields. Some water channels run underground while most are on the surface, bringing life into the desert and creating the oases that we see today. The falaj system is so efficient that is still operational, visible in most Omani villages that are surrounded by fertile land, or even in some of the wadis, stretching alongside the stream. Being a wonderous engineering construction, the collective falaj network was designated in 2006 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Oman, mud houses
In the alleys of Adam’s old neighbourhoods

Photo credits: © Konstantina Sakellariou

Original post:

Leave a comment

I accept the Terms and Conditions and the Privacy Policy

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Jonathan Hooper

4 years ago

I’m going to be in Oman 🇴🇲 January 2021 for 11 days and I’m interested in trying a few tours . Adam and Salalah . Any information about this will be most helpful