The Lost City of Ubar

In the Rub’ al Kahli desert (the Empty Quarter, the largest contiguous sand desert in the world) at the tiny village of Shisr, Oman, ancient remains discovered in 1992 may be the legendary city of Ubar.

Ubar (aka Wabar, Imran or Iram of the Pillars) is called out in the Quran as a wicked, many-towered city that God caused to be swallowed up in a massive sand storm. In the tales of 1001 Arabian Nights and Bedouin folk tales Ubar is described as a gilded, bejeweled city with soaring towers.

The buried remains at Shisr were discovered in 1992 based on satellite imagery, ancient maps and a process of deduction. At the time, archaeologists concluded that the ancient city had disappeared into a sinkhole. Excavations have revealed a fort on the site with eight 10-12 foot tall walls, joined by multiple watch towers that were about 30 feet tall.

Whether or not the site is the legendary city, evidence is clear that it was a trading post, and caravanserai for desert caravans traveling the incense route between Arabia and the Mediterranean Sea. Artefacts from far-away lands have been found and satellite imagery shows tracks crossing the desert and converging on the site.

T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) dubbed Ubar “Atlantis of the Sands” and talked of taking up the search himself, but he never did. British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes was part of the team that discovered the ruins at Shisr after searching for decades. Read more in his book Atlantis of the Sands – The Search for the Lost City of Ubar.

Shisr is located in the Dhofar province of Oman, about 3 hours from the provincial capital Salalah.