Is “The Lost City of Ubar” Found or Still Lost?! Shisr, Southern Oman

As a HUGE fan of the Indiana Jones films (at least “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade“), myths or legends of “a lost city” are definitely something which are sure to grab my attention.  I had no intention of visiting the site of the supposed “rediscovered lost city of Ubar” during my trip to Salalah in July but memories of lost treasure being discovered in different movies on the big screen won out as I noticed this sign on the Salalah-Muscat road:  I noticed that the road here to Shisr (or Shasar) was reported to be only 70 kms so I decided that it might be well worth arriving in Muscat a few hours later than planned in order to see an ancient city shrouded in mystery.  This was what the road was like to “the lost city of Ubar”.  What you can’t see from this picture is just how bumpy the road was!  In the classic storybook, “1001 Arabian Nights“, “Anyone who tries to find the road to Ubar will go crazy.”  Well, I seemed to be losing my mind from the car vibrations and halfway there I started doubting if I was even on the right road!  The shaking of the car was so bad in some spots that I had to slow down to 20 kms/hour to prevent the rental car from falling apart! (Good thing I left my car in Muscat on this journey, haha!! :-) )  A few villas have been built since the discovery of this site in 1992.  There couldn’t have been more than 10 villas there in total as well as a small mosque and a tiny convenience store.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention the restaurant.  No thanks, ha!ha! I’m not THAT hungry…  Seems that the black paint can is lost as well!  This is the unimpressive entrance to this…unimpressive site.  This location is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.  One might automatically assume that that would mean it would be impressive, but one would be wrong.  The same with the “Bat Tombs” outside of Ibri…   Of course for the sake of tourism, this site is CLAIMED to be “the ancient city of Ubar” but there is a lot of debate out there about whether it is or not.  If it is the “Iram” of the Quran, it really doesn’t seem to match at all (even though many Islamic sites hold this discovery as proof of the validity of their book).  This is the verse said to describe this site in the Quran: “Seest thou not how thy Lord dealt with the `Ad (people); Of the (city of) Iram, with lofty pillars; The like of which were not produced in (all) the land?”  (This story sounds suspiciously a lot like the story of Sodom and Gomorra which were punished/destroyed by God in the Old Testament.)  Well the ruins of this site show that this ancient site was anything but “lofty”.  One traveler who traveled all the way out to see this site wrote on the web, “The lost city of Ubar is disappointing-It should stay lost.” Strong words but I can understand the disappointment as there really was not much to see. The other ancient sites of Khor Rhouri and Al Balid are FAR superior to this site which is supposed to have been “the best of the best”.  Built by the legendary Shaddad ibn Ad as “an imitation of Paradise,” the city was renowned for its imposing architecture, vast groves of fruit trees and fabulous wealth. The historian, Al-Hamdani, writing in the sixth century A.D., hailed Ubar as “first among the treasures of ancient Arabia“.  It seems that some false advertising is going on.  Some websites (go ahead and google to see for yourself) are honest enough to state that it is probably not the ancient city reported.  An ancient map of the Arabian peninsula with the area of Oman labelled as “Felix Arabia” or “Happy Arabia”  Here’s another interesting report on this historic site.  Some of the artifacts retrieved here include: sandstone incense burners from the 7th-12th centuries AD, womens cosmetics and accessories such as the make-up applicator known as “kohl” and bracelets from the 9th-16th centuries AD, red polished wares dated 12th-15th centuries AD, iron weight and arrowheads dated 10th-16th centuries AD, spearpoints, an axe and arrowheads dated 6000-7000 BC, and a limestone dated sometime between the 2nd and 9th centuries AD.  Here’s a gallery of some of the items.  Here is a skeptical view of the link of this site to Ubar  Are these the ruins of what T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) once referred to as “the Atlantis of the Sands”?  You be the judge.  Some are satisfied with the notion that this site (Wubar, Shisr) is just one of many ancient stops/forts along the frankincense trail but not the actual “famed city of Iram”. Juris Zarins, one of the original archeologists basically admits to this fact in an interview NOVA did with him years later.  Zarins Interview Part IPart II.  An animal’s skull (goat? sheep?) on a dark stairway.  This is the kind of scene I imagined in my adventure of looking for a lost city, ha!ha! (I’ve obviously watched one too many movies!  :-) )  By the way, come explore this dark stairway with me in my short film, “Andiana Jones and the Search for the Lost City of Ubar“, coming soon to a theatre near you.  The white stones lay out a path which the visitors are to follow full-circle around the small area.  An old (but not exactly “ancient”) building on the Wubar site.  The Indian clerk at the small shop, when asked, told me that “the previous Sultan lived in it” but that is utter rubbish.  Eureka! I have found the fabled lost toilet of Ubar!!!  Sorry…just having fun with you, ha!ha!  :-)  This gentleman, Babu, has worked at the small shop selling snacks just outside the gate to “the lost city of Ubar” for 7 years! Wow! poor guy! There really isn’t much to do there, it’s extremely hot (far from the Monsoon Rains that reaches Salalah every July-September) and seems to be far from civilization.  If there’s one thing I got out of my trip to Ubar, Shisr, it’s the realization of how great life is in today’s modern cities.  Count your blessings, people! The average person of today’s world lives far better than many kings in ancient days!  Check out this eye-opening video from Bill Whittle on “The Wonders of the Modern World“.

By the way, if you want to see some real “lost cities” worth visiting, click here.

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16 responses to “Is “The Lost City of Ubar” Found or Still Lost?! Shisr, Southern Oman

  1. Thanks for the link! Good reading material there! :-)

  2. OMG, very comprehensive! Your effort to put it all up here is more impressive than the ruins lol. I don’t understand why they don’t call it ‘Iram’. That’s what it was called.

    http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/radar/sircxsar/ubar1.html

  3. Hi Daisy!
    Thanks for the encouraging comment. Glad you were entertained, ha!ha! I think the reason they don’t call it Iram is because it isn’t. The fact that they call it “Ubar”, the city from 1001 Arabian Nights is the first clue that this is related more to fairytales and myths than to any historical city of pomp.

  4. Hi Andy,

    I am now my 7th year in Oman, was in Salalah for five of them and visited Shisr (I won’t lower myself to call it “Ubar”) twice. The second time was with family who had been suckered into believing the crap put out about an “ancient city” being there and I just had to go with them. I agree with most in that it was just one of many places to stay along the Frankincense/Silk Road because it had water. It was plainly no more than a walled village. It is a shame that the Omani people responsible for this scam feel they have to do this when there are so many genuine ancient sites such as Al Baleed, (which in my opinion has the best museum outside Muscat) in Salalah.

    • Hi, Duffy!
      Thanks for commenting. It’s nice to hear from someone who’s been there as well. 7 years in Oman! Wow! You’ve got 3 years on me. :-) Cheers!

  5. Hi Andy, I recently visited Shisr and was writing about it on my child’s website. Then I stumbled onto this page and it is so much better than I could ever write. Would it be okay with you if I link to this page? Thanks for the great write-up!

  6. Hey come on ,don’t forget Sir Ranulph Fiennes played apart in this great discovery.Not to mention padding out his cv for his knighthood,it seems to me if in Oman anyone and everyone has stumbled over this site

  7. OMG indeed! I went to Shisr in 1970 during the Dhofar Campaign and it was just a cave and a well. But at least it was remote and unspoilt – what have they done to it? I am planning to visit Oman next year and thought I might try to get to Shisr – don’t think I will bother now!

  8. Are you kidding re: the dancingfromgeneis poster? The links are to new age quackery gobble-dee-gook. I’m 99% sure you got spammed.

    • I think not. The blogger is not into new age gobble-dee-gook (the sound I imagine a Turkey makes when it’s slaughtered for Thanksgiving!) but rather, “The author is a young earth creationist, who is commenting on how mainstream scientists and New Agers are missing the boat (willfully in many cases) as they interpret the evidences about our ancient history.” I don’t think he’d consider himself a “new ager” if he thinks they missed the boat! ;-)

  9. That cave is scary!

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