• Keywords: Oman, Cultural Landscape, Aflaj, Falaj, irrigation system, ancient water management, Iddi (or Daudi) Aflaj, Ghaili Aflaj, Aini Aflaj.

1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES

1.1 National and International Classification Lists

Aflaj irrigation system is in the World Heritage List of UNESCO with date of inscription: 2006, criteria: (v) and ref: 1207.

  • World heritage list of UNESCO

1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology

Organically evolved landscapes
Relict (or fossil) landscape

1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med

Description

Aflaj (sing. falaj) are the main source of irrigation water in Oman beside wells. They are utilized in agriculture as well as for domestic use since ancient times. Similar systems are present in neighboring Arabian countries and in Persia where it is considered by literature the origin of falaj or Qanat irrigation system. The Falaj is a system of tapping underground water which is led by man-made subterranean channels to villages where it is used for irrigation and domestic purposes. The Cultural Landscape of Aflaj irrigation system includes five aflaj irrigation systems scattered in Dakhiliya, Sharqiya and Batinah Regions, and represents some 3,000 such systems still in use in Oman. UNESCO has classified the site in the cultural category, but Med-O-Med has decided to give one more step considering the area linked to the aflaj system as a Cultural Landscape. The Aflaj show a way of interaction between human being and nature by a sosteinable management of natural resources. The use of water in a desert environment has given the possibility of agriculture’s development. The origins of this system of irrigation may date back to 500 A.D., but archaeological evidence suggests that irrigation systems existed in this extremely arid area as early as 2,500 B.C. For that reason Med-O-Med considers the Cultural Landscape as a Relict Landscape. Aflaj, is the plural of falaj which, in classical Arabic means to divide into shares and equitable sharing of a scarce resources to ensure sustainability remains the hallmark of this irrigation system. Using gravity, water is channelled from underground sources or springs to support agriculture and domestic use, often over many kilometres. The fair and effective management and sharing of water in villages and towns is still underpinned by mutual dependence and communal values and guided by astronomical observations. Numerous watchtowers built to defend the water systems form part of the listed property reflecting the historic dependence of communities on the aflaj system. Other buildings listed in association with the aflaj are mosques, houses, sundials, and water auction buildings. Threatened by the lowering level of the underground water table, the aflaj represent an exceptionally well-preserved form of land use. Aflaj are considered a major part of Oman’s glorious heritage, and in many villages and some towns are still considered to be part of the infrastructure, which needs to be supported and maintained by the government.

2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY

  • Current denomination Aflaj, Falaj.
  • Current denomination Aflaj, Falaj.
  • Original denomination Aflaj, Falaj.
  • Popular denomination Aflaj, Falaj.
  • Address: Dakhiliya, Sharqiya and Batinah Regions.
  • Geographical coordinates: N22 59 56 E57 32 9.8
  • Area, boundaries and surroundings: The Cultural Landscape of Aflaj irrigation system includes five aflaj irrigation systems scattered in Dakhiliya, Sharqiya and Batinah Regions. According to UNESCO data, the Property has 1,456 ha, and the Buffer zone 16,404 ha.

3. LEGAL ISSUES

Property regime
  • Public
  • Owner: Oman's Government.
  • Body responsible for the maintenance: Ministry of Water Resources (MWR)
  • Legal protection: Ministry of Water Resources (MWR) takes care of the management and restoration of the the Aflaj. The Aflaj Inventory Project (1997) indicates the real conditions of the system.
  • Public or private organizations working in the site: -The Government’s contribution to Aflaj maintenance: After the Renaissance, the Government allocated millions of Omani Rials for maintenance and for the improvement of associated systems. In addition, laws were enacted and regulations and controls introduced to conserve aflaj water resources. Modern maintenance devices, such as mechanical shovels, are now used for falaj excavation replacing the old manual devices, and mechanical excavators have replaced manual excavation for breaking up rock layers which obstruct the course of aflaj, and plain and reinforced concrete is now used in lieu of stones and sarooj (baked clay) to line falaj channels. All these modern measures have reduced the time and effort required for maintenance works. While earlier generations of Omanis established the principle of aflaj irrigation in ancient times, their descendants have now been assigned responsibility for maintenance, which is still restricted to Omani contractors. -Aflaj maintenance techniques: The Government has spared no effort or resourceson the maintenance of the country’s aflaj, which are not only part of Oman’s heritage reflecting its ancient civilisation, but also still a major water resource. The Government has also provided technical support and has improved maintenance techniques according to the following procedures From the early 1970s to 1994 Falaj maintenance applications are first approved by the Sheikh and the Wali. Field visits aflaj site made in cooperation with the wakeel and local community.Technical specifications and estimated costs put out to public tender, alternatively, quotations might be obtained from contractors. Initial approval for work obtained from the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Regional Municipalities. A work implementation contract drawn up and a notice to proceed issued according to work needed and financial allocation. Implementation of the required work by the contractor under official supervision.

4. HISTORY

-HISTORY AND ORIGIN OF FALAJ IRRIGATION SYSTEM: The system of aflaj consists of tapping the water table of the mountains and leading the water by man-made subterranean channels and siphons across the wadi beds to the plains where it is used for irrigation and other domestic purposes. The falaj history in Oman goes back to the Persian era when Persian settlers introduced the qanat system thousands of years ago. Qanat in Persia was described in-depth in many literature and have been studied in term of geological, hydrological and social effects on the settlements of the arid regions. Sutton mentioned that aflaj provided Omanis with water for 1,500-2,000 years and many of the present systems are over a thousand years old. Cressey stated that the idea of Persian origin and dates back more than 2000 years, the palace city of Persepolis is thought to have been supplied by qanats about 500 B.C. Near the Mediterranean, qanats are erroneously attributed to the Romans. The falaj system is known in as karez in southeast Asia, foggara in North Africa, and qanat in Persia and west and central Asia reported that the qanat system is associated with Persia, however, under Arab influence this system introduced to North Africa and even to remote places such as Madrid. -FALAJ AND EARLY SETTLEMENTS IN OMAN: Ancient Omanis were possessing technical knowledge of digging deep aflaj shafts and construction of tens of meter deep aflaj in order to tap groundwater and convey it to the ground surface through the tunnels before it is directed to the cultivated lands. Aflaj were constructed at that time by using primitive methods and excavation tools. The construction of some aflaj took many years for completion. The word falaj derives from an ancient Semitic root (plg) means to divide, which is applied to an organization for distributing water amongst those who have rights to it. Birks mentioned that the falaj system had been established for up to 2000 years. The early settlers of Oman found in falaj their aim for a permanent and stable water and food supply which helped in producing more organized communities. These rural communities live under a chronic threat of drought, and have developed this system as a response to shortage of rainfall which sometimes extend to three years. The qanats or aflaj had revolutionized the conditions for agriculture by providing access to groundwater and thereby opening up for colonization of the arid alluvial fans along the inner slops of the mountains. These aflaj form the eastern section in a chain that stretches from northern Oman and provide a traditional technology for conveying water underground from its mother well. The existing oasis in Inner-Oman depends upon this traditional water-collecting system for centuries. The falaj maintenance was the responsibility of every individual in the society. The preoccupation with distribution of water rights is reinforced by the fact that falaj produced isolated communities. Each of these communities tend to form self-sufficient society whose members cooperate in water matters. The social structure that has grown up in each settlement was based on the need to organize the water supply, and fund both regular and sporadic and urgent falaj maintenance.

5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION

5.1. Natural heritage

  • Heritage: Archaeological
  • Geography: High Mountain
  • Site topography: Natural
  • Climate and environmental conditions: The climate of Oman has two distinct periods: the cooler winter months when most rain falls in Northern Oman, especially in the mountains, and the hot summer when a southwest monsoonal airflow affects most of the country, with a significant deposition of fog moisture occurring in parts of the Dhofar highlands. The southwest trade winds begin to blow across the Indian Ocean in May, reaching the Dhofar coast as the warm moist monsoon. By July and August, these winds reach a peak of 20-30 knots parallel to the coast, setting up a strong current from Somalia to western India. Deep, cold water wells up, particularly off Dhofar, and, being several degrees colder than the air passing over it, cools the air to dew-point. A bank of fog and ragged cloud then forms over the sea and a temperature inversion tends to prevent its dispersal, though daily changes occur. Where the Dhofar highlands face the wind, the fog and cloud press against them, riding to the top of Jebel Al Qara’, but rarely over Jebel Qamar. The moisture condenses on objects (especially plants) and sometimes falls as drizzle.
The water flow of Aflaj is relatively constant all year round and varies according to the amount of annual rainfall and drought periods. The main structure of the falaj consists of: the mother well that may reach a depth of 65 to 200 feet, the main channel, and the access shafts that are built every 50 to 60 m along the channel. The average water flow of the falaj is about 9 gal/sec which is adequate to irrigate a large number of hectares permanently. Water distribution is fairly complicated but rather efficient to ensure fair and adequate water supply for all farming lands. The irrigation timing in the past was based on sun-clock in the day time and the stars in the night. Water is mainly distributed to the contributors (owners ) and their share is inherited, while others may buy a share from the owners or through rental from regular auctions according to the farmers need of the water.
Land uses and economical activities:
Agriculture.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:
Agriculture is a vital economy for nations throughout the world, and fresh water resources used for irrigation vary from one region to another, with some regions depending on rainfall and others taking their water from rivers or collecting it in large reservoirs or dams, in addition, many regions rely on underground water which accumulated in certain geological formations throughout history. The situation is different in the Sultanate of Oman, which lies within the arid and semi-arid zone where there are no rivers and rainfall is not sufficient for agriculture. However the Omani people applied their minds and used their skills to overcome the obstacles of their climate to maximise the benefit of the underground water resources available to them. They found the optimum solution in the falaj system, which enabled them to obtain the fresh water supplies required to ensure continuity of life in Oman. The fruit of their efforts can still be seen today in existing Aflaj and irrigation canals.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:

Aflaj system in several villages of Dakhiliya, Sharqiya and Batinah Regions, in Oman. Crop fields, gardens and oases that are linked to the irrigation system.

5.2. Cultural Heritage

A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general

In the case of gardens: original and current style:
It is not the case.
Man-made elements related to water management:
  • Public
Aflaj, is the plural of falaj which, in classical Arabic means to divide into shares and equitable sharing of a scarce resources to ensure sustainability remains the hallmark of this irrigation system. Using gravity, water is channelled from underground sources or springs to support agriculture and domestic use, often over many kilometres. The fair and effective management and sharing of water in villages and towns is still underpinned by mutual dependence and communal values and guided by astronomical observations. Numerous watchtowers built to defend the water systems form part of the listed property reflecting the historic dependence of communities on the aflaj system. Other buildings listed in association with the aflaj are mosques, houses, sundials, and water auction buildings. Threatened by the lowering level of the underground water table, the aflaj represent an exceptionally well-preserved form of land use. -TYPES OF AFLAJ: Although similar in some characteristics and in methods of construction, there are basic differences between the different types of aflaj, especially in terms of their width, depth and water quality, as well as the nature of the land on which they were constructed. There are also variations in the quantity of water carried that are attributable to a number of factors, including the availability of water in the aquifer and the amount of water lost through evaporation and seepage. Some aflaj are easily affected by scarcity of rainfall and may dry up over a number of years, while others are less affected. The most important advantage of aflaj is the continuous flow of water throughout the year free of running costs or human effort, apart from the cost of initial construction and maintenance, making their economic return relatively high.
Domestic, industrial ensembles, energy related systems:

Aflaj system.

B) Related to ancient remains

  • Archaeological components:

    The property includes five aflaj irrigation systems and represents some 3,000 such systems still in use in Oman. The origins of this system of irrigation may date back to 500 A.D., but archaeological evidence suggests that irrigation systems existed in this extremely arid area as early as 2,500 B.C. Aflaj are divided into different types: -Iddi (or Daudi) Aflaj It is clear from the name that these aflaj are attributed to the Prophet Suleiman. An abundant flow of water is one of the major characteristics of this type of aflaj, which are affected by changes in groundwater table levels. Daudi aflaj consist of underground tunnels measuring between 0.5 to 1 metre wide and 0.5 to 2 metres high, with a maximum depth of up to 50 metres below the surface of the ground. They can be found on the upstream plains of Sharqiyah, Dakhiliyah, Dhahirah and the Batinah regions, and are characterised by their length, which may be as long as 12 kilometres, and their perennial flow, which is continuous throughout the year. According to the Aflaj Inventory Project, some aflaj have dozens of branches, which increase the falaj flow. Al Malki falaj in Izki is the largest falaj in Oman in terms of its number of branches, with a total of seventeen. It should be noted that Daudi aflaj account for 23.5% of the total number of Oman’s aflaj. -Ghaili Aflaj Ghaili are so called because their flow is seasonal and is determined by the availability of groundwater and rainfall. They mainly draw their water from wadi channels and lower mountain slopes. Ghaili aflaj are usually open channels with only small covered sections located within wadis. They have a depth of up to 4 metres below the surface of the ground and are between 100 metres and 2 kilometres long. Most of these aflaj stop flowing during dry periods as a result of their dependence on water that accumulates in pools downstream of wadis. These are the most prevalent type of aflaj in northern Oman and constitute about 48.5% of the total number in the Sultanate. -Aini Aflaj These aflaj are fed by springs flowing from the foothills and peaks of mountains where water runs in open channels from deep geological layers formed in ancient times. The water usually contains sulphur and is sometimes hot, and is used to cure diseases such as rheumatism. There are many hot springs in the Sultanate, the most widely known are Ain Al Thawarah in Nakhal, Ain Al Kasfah in Al Rustaq and Ain Arzat in Jebal Al Qara in Dhofar. Aini aflaj constitute about 28% of the total number of aflaj in the Sultanate.

  • Traces in the environment of human activity: Aflaj system.
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values

  • Languages and dialects: Arabic
  • Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: There is no accurate information about the orgins of Aflaj and many people in the region believe that Prophet Suleiman, son of Dawood, used genies (spirit) to build them. According to legend, when Suleiman was on his way to Jerusalem he saw Salut fort in Oman and asked a hoopoe about it. The hoopoe told him the fort was empty except for some Bedouin Prophet Suleiman camped there. As there was no water around, the Prophet ordered the genies to build one thousand canals each day of his ten-day stay. Hence, Oman has had ten thousand aflaj. Ancient legends like these have been passed from generation to generation, but the history of aflaj may well date back to the era of Twam or Al Jouf — the old names of Al Ain and Al Buraimi. Archaeological evidence indicates the existence of aflaj in the Salut area, where the ruins of an old fort can still be seen, which was an important trading centre during the ancient civilization of Oman. The origins of aflaj are the subject of intense debate amongst specialists and academics.

5.3. Quality

Condition: environmental/ cultural heritage degradation:
Factors leading to the deterioration of Aflaj: Most Aflaj, especially those lying in wadis or on the fringes of plains adjacent to wadis, are liable to collapse and blockage by rocks and silt as a result of excessive rainfall or intrusion of water into the part of the falaj channel extending from the mother well to the sharia, thus hindering flow. Deep aflaj are also prone to the collapse of access shafts, due to erosion and heavy rainfall, which washes stones and silt into the channels, leading to an interruption of the flow of water to its destination. Prolonged droughts are a further factor that may cause aflaj to dry up. The factors that interrupt water flow and require aflaj maintenance can be summarised as follows: Prolonged drought. Erosion of old structures. Wadi floods. Accumulation of lime on the beds of channels. Growth of deep-rooting trees nearby. Collapse of roofs and walls of old channels. Channel beds becoming filled by soil and dirt.
Perspectives/Views/ Points of interest/Setting:

-Iddi (or Daudi) Aflaj -Ghaili Aflaj -Aini Aflaj

6. VALUES

Tangible

  • Archaeological
  • Living heritage
  • Maintenance quality
The main tangible values of "The Cultural Landscape of Aflaj irrigation system" are: -Archaeological: The property includes five aflaj irrigation systems and represents some 3,000 such systems still in use in Oman. The origins of this system of irrigation may date back to 500 A.D., but archaeological evidence suggests that irrigation systems existed in this extremely arid area as early as 2,500 B.C. -Living heritage/ Maintenance quality: The fair and effective management and sharing of water in villages and towns is still underpinned by mutual dependence and communal values and guided by astronomical observations. Numerous watchtowers built to defend the water systems form part of the listed property reflecting the historic dependence of communities on the aflaj system. Threatened by the lowering level of the underground water table, the aflaj represent an exceptionally well-preserved form of land use.

Intangible

  • Historical
The main intangible values of "The Cultural Landscape of Aflaj irrigation system" are: -Historical: Aflaj reflect the global position their universal value as historical heritage thereby confirming the ingenuity of Omanis in the field of construction and building. They also illustrate the role played by the Sultanate in preserving its heritage for future generations. The widespread use Falaj Systems in Oman is evidence of ancient civilizations and man's ability to face challenges in fulfilling the need for one of life's essential elements-water. It was previously assumed that the origin of aflaj was Iranian, dating back to the 1st millennium BC, but new archaeological excavations in Sault, in the Province of Bahla, confirms that they, in fact, came from the south of the Arabian Peninsula and their existence in Oman Dates to the end of the 2nd millennium BC. It was only after a long period of time that they appeared in Iran. -Social significance/ Cultural: Aflaj have always played a remarkable role in sustaining water supplies for agriculture, and ancient Omanis excelled in their construction in spite of their limited capabilities. They demonstrate a unique style of engineering which lead to complete dependency on them due to the absence of other sources of water.
Authenticity:
The histories of the aflaj in the nomination are unknown, since no written records survive. By virtue of its size and complexity, and the importance of the town of Izki that it supplies, a case could be made for Falaj Al-Malki as being one of the earliest in Oman. There are similar indications that Falaj Daris, with its links to the town of Nizwa, could be considerable antiquity. The relationship of Falaj Al-Khatmeen to the Bait Al-Redadah fort, known to have been built during the Yaruba Imamates, suggests that this falaj originated in the 17th century.
Universality:
The property includes various aflaj irrigation systems and is representative of some 3,000 such systems still in use in Oman. The origins of this system of irrigation may date back to AD 500, but archaeological evidence suggests that irrigation systems existed in this extremely arid area as early as 2500 BC. Using gravity, water is channelled from underground sources or springs to support agriculture and domestic use. The fair and effective management and sharing of water in villages and towns is still underpinned by mutual dependence and communal values and guided by astronomical observations. Numerous watchtowers built to defend the water systems form part of the site reflecting the historic dependence of communities on the aflaj system. Threatened by falling level of the underground water table, the aflaj represent an exceptionally well-preserved form of land use. Med-O-Med subscribes to UNESCO criteria: v)The collection of Aflaj irrigation systems represents some 3,000 still functioning systems in Oman. Ancient engineering technologies demonstrate long standing, sustainable use of water resources for the cultivation of palms and other produce in extremely arid desert lands. Such systems reflect the former total dependence of communities on this irrigation and a time-honoured, fair and effective management and sharing of water resources, underpinned by mutual dependence and communal values.
Values linked to the Islamic culture and civilisation:
-Social significance and historical meaning: this territory preserve ancient customs and original arabic traditions and characteristics. The fields of the villages of Dakhiliya, Sharqiya and Batinah Regions in Oman, are managed with the Aflaj system (man-made irrigation conduits, pools, tec.). This system also made part of the social organization of the villages. Aflaj have always played a remarkable role in sustaining water supplies for agriculture, and ancient Omanis excelled in their construction in spite of their limited capabilities. They demonstrate a unique style of engineering which lead to complete dependency on them due to the absence of other sources of water.

7. ENCLOSURES

Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):

The Cultural Landscape of Aflaj irrigation system is one of all of the cultural landscapes of Oman which are included in The Cultural Landscape inventory runned by Med-O-Med.

Bibliography:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1207 http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/267 http://whc.unesco.org/venice2002 http://www.nizwa.net/agr/falaj/ http://www.omanwhs.gov.om/english/Falaj/default.asp www.mrmwr.gov.om/index.asp?id=74 -Al-Ghafri, A. (2005). Aflaj of Oman: History, Engineering & Management. -Al-Ghafri, A. (2004). Irrigation Scheduling of Aflaj of Oman. -Al-Ghafri, A. (2004). Aflaj Irrigation Systems. -Al-Marshudy, A. (1995). Operation of the falaj system. In: Traditional agriculture and fishing in the Sultanate of Oman. College of Agriculture, Sultan Qaboos University. Muscat, Oman. Pp. 5-10. -Birks, J. S. (1977). The reaction of rural populations to drought: a case study from South East Arabia. Grdkunde, (4): 299-305. -Birks, J. S. (1984). The falaj: modern problems and some possible solutions. Waterlines, Vol.2 ,(4): 28-31. -Christensen, P. (1993). The decline of Iranshahr. Irrigation and environments in the history of the Middle East, 500 B.C. to A.D. 1500. Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Pp. 120-129. -Cressey, G. B. (1958). Qanats, karez, and foggaras. Geographical Review, (48): 24-44. -Gabriel, T. (1990). Social analysis and rural development strategies for Oman. Arid soil research and rehabilitation, Vol.4 (1): 75-83. -Grandmaison, C. L. (1984). L’eau du vendredi. Droits d’eau et hierarchie sociale en Sharqiya (Sultanate of Oman). Eudes rurales, janvu-juin 93-94: 7-42. -Maktari, A. M. (1971). Water rights and irrigation practices in Lahj. A study of the application of customary and Sharia law in South-West Arabia. Cambridge University Press. UK. Pp. 81-82. -Ministry of water resources. (1994). Aflaj in the sultanate of Oman. International Printing Press, Ruwi, Oman. -Scholz, F. (1984). Falaj-Oasen in Sharqiya, Inner-Oman. Die-Erde 115: 273-294. -Smith, G. R. (1995). Farmers and Fishermen in Arabia. Variorum, UK. Pp.57-72. -Smith, P. J. and Parks. Y, P. (1983). Factors affecting the flow of aflaj in Oman: A modeling study. Journal of hydrology, 65: 293-312. -Sutton, S. (1984). The falaj – a traditional co-operative system of water management. waterlines vol.2 (3) 8-11. -UNESCO. (2001). Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage. World Heritage Committee. 25 session. Helsinki, Finland. -UNESCO. (2002). Cultural Landscapes: the Challenges of Conservation. Associated Workshops, World Heritage. Ferrara, Italy. -Wilkinson, J. C. (1974). The organization of the falaj irrigation system in Oman. Research Paper no.10. School of Geology, University of Oxford. UK.

Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías.