By: M Najmuz Zafar

MUSCAT: The Ministry of Heritage and Culture (MoHC) has outlined a management plan to develop the Harat Fanja (settlement quarters in Fanja) into a tourist hot spot while preserving its archaeological heritage.

The ministry also plans to revive the centuries old Al Azwah festivities of Harat Fanja and turn it into a showcase event.

The plan includes setting up exhibition and congregational facilities, a mid-range short stay accommodation, cafés and restaurants, and an open air auditorium carved into the slope of the settlement, besides a thermal bath from the hot mineral waters of Hamam al Gharbi in the harat.

The ministry believes that Fanja has the potential to become a destination of cultural interest, more so due to its proximity to Muscat and its location along the Samail pass.

The plan proposes a gradual and sustainable revitalisation of Harat Fanja without displacing inhabitants of the harat. “It has been seen that over-reliance on tourism necessarily leads to the ‘museumification’ of the heritage, therefore a modicum of visitor-centred development is to be encouraged,” the ministry has stated in its plan.

Ali al Mahrooqi, acting director of Forts and Castles, MoHC, and rapporteur of the committee that devised the plan told Muscat Daily that although the planning phase has begun, actual work at the site is still far off.

“We have to sit with stakeholders like the ministries of Tourism and Housing and other agencies to formalise the development as envisaged in the management plan.”

To reduce costs, the plan suggests opening up development to foreign direct investment. “Opening up the real estate market outside the capital not only provides an influx of resources, but also acts as a business primer and inspiration to locals. The tourism industry will profit greatly from a degree of outside input in the form of short stay accommodation,” the ministry has said.

The focus will be around retaining the intangible heritage of the settlement. With origins dating back to the 8th century, the annual Al Azwah celebrations, which take place during Eid in the Fanja oasis, are the defining feature of the area.

“The aim is to enhance the Al Azwah festivities, which through sensible promotion, has the potential of becoming a showcase event of Omani culture,” the ministry has proposed.

The other tangible heritages that need preservation and redevelopment include the Haman al Gharbi, which could be used to supply a thermal bath of a high-level hostelry establishment.

After restoration, the northern part of the harat will serve as congregational space, while other ruins in the area would serve as the perfect site for a mid-range accommodation facility offering great views of the Fanja oasis.

Restaurant and cafés are also proposed in the northern part of the harat.

The central area will be considered for exhibition, including a gallery space to showcase elements of Fanja’s history and culture. This space may also have a theatre or auditorium.