Sumhuram is the ancient site of a trading outpost of the Hadramite kingdom of southern Arabia. It’s located near the city of Salalah in the south of our mystery country. Sumhuram was a major port for the export of frankincense. The city dates to the 4th century BCE but its status as a trading port increased significantly in the 1st century BCE, when trade with the Roman Empire was established.

Near by, Khor Rori (khor = creek) is an extension of Wadi Darbat, separated from the Indian Ocean by a narrow sand bar. The fresh water attracts many species of birds and herds of wild camels.

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Frankincense, from Oman to the World


Frankincense, the wealth of ancient Oman, flowed from the scared trunks of scrappy little trees on the wadi flats and mountain sides of misty Dhofar. The prized scent intensified as the resin dried and hardened.Then it was sent out by land and sea across the known world.

Dhows, the traditional sailing vessels of the region, carried frankincense to ports in Africa, Mesopotamia and India. While great caravans of 1,000 or more camels walked 2,000 miles north across the unforgiving Arabian Desert to ports on the Mediterranean Sea.

Camels can survive weeks without food or water, drawing on the fat stored in their humps. When necessary, they ate grains they carried or whatever they could find to graze on. Caravan drivers ate food packed by the camels, hunted, and shopped where they could on the way.

Tribal territories around the routes carved their share of the trade by charging tolls for passage and selling supplies.

Overnight camps were set up in the open desert or at caravanserai, the truck stops of the ancient trade routes. Song and dance around the fire recapped the highlights of each day’s journey, celebrated a step closer to completion and energized the company for the next leg.

The frankincense trade goes back at least 5,000 years. Egyptians and Mesopotamians were crazy for it, and the Greeks and Romans after them. It was used in religious ritual, in cosmetics, in medicine, even to embalm the dead. Today it’s used in pretty much the same ways and Dhofar still produces some of the highest quality frankincense in the world.

In Dhofar, you can visit remains of the ancient frankincense trade at Sumhuram and Al Baleed, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites near Salalah in southwestern Oman.

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In Dhofar, the southern region of our mystery country, near the city of Salalah, we find the remains of ancient Sumhuram, aka Khor Rori, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Two thousand years ago, Sumhuram was a major port and the world center for the trade of frankincense. It’s also rumored that the Queen of Sheba had a palace here.

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