On the Incense Road of Antiquity ~ Oman to the Mediterranean and beyond

The peaceful nation of the Sultanate of Oman has been blessed with the natural beauty of the mountains, desert and sea. This has in turn provided a climate abounding in stunning, rich contrasts: an arid, hot landscape in the North versus tropical, lush green landscape of the South.

Trawling the sea for tuna, black marlin, abalone and giant trevally, the locals have for centuries been keen fishermen and sailors whilst also trading in local handicrafts, minerals and spices.

The Incense trade route or the Incense Road of Antiquity was comprised of a network of major ancient land and sea trading routes linking the Mediterranean world with Eastern and Southern sources of incense, spices and other luxury goods, stretching from Mediterranean ports across the Levant and Egypt through eastern Africa, Arabia to India and beyond.

The trade route bought many nationalities to the shores of Oman: Indians, Persians, Africans and local Bedouins. The imprint of these ancient traders have permanently remained in modern-day Oman as outside of Arabic and English, Farsi, Swahili and Urdu are still widely spoken.

The incense land trade from South Arabia to the Mediterranean flourished roughly between 7th century B.C till approximately 2 A.D. The Incense Route served as a channel for the trading of goods such as: Arabian frankincense and myrrh; Indian spices, precious stones, pearls, ebony, silk and fine textiles; and East African rare woods, feathers, animal skins and gold. Oman was a hive of activity and a hub of unseen opulence.

However, it is the liquid gold extracted from the Boswellia tree, frankincense, which provided Oman with its imminent importance in trade. The indigenous plant grows only in southern Oman and in neighbouring Yemen, the yellow coloured nuggets of resin were exported as far as the Roman Empire to be used as incense in Church whilst also being highly in demand even earlier on by the Ancient Egyptians for their funeral preparations into the after life. Thought to possess a calming and cleansing effect, it is rumoured that the Queen of Sheba built here palace nearby in Sumsuharam in order to be closer to her favourite fragrance.

A UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in 2002 attached the World Heritage Site status to The Frankincense trail in Oman. The official citation reads:

"The frankincense trees of Wadi Dawkah and the remains of the caravan oasis of Shisr/Wubar and the affiliated ports of Khor Rori and Al-Balid vividly illustrate the trade in frankincense that flourished in this region for many centuries, as one of the most important trading activities of the ancient and medieval world.

These days you no longer need to either be a trader on the caravan route or a leader of an Empire to access the rare and unique frankincense; rather a simple stroll to the local souk in Muscat, Nizwa or Salalah should be adequate enough. Or you can visit the UNESCO protected frankincense trail by hopping onto a plane to Salalah."