Ubar

Archaeological Site in Shisr

Ubar is an archaeological site of potentially great importance. Lost to history for more than 1000 years, the rediscovery of the remains of this once important trading post on the frankincense route caused great archaeological excitement in the 1990s. It may be hard for the ordinary mortal to appreciate what all the fuss is about, as there is little to see. An insightful video, however (in the small information centre, opened in 2017), helps in interpreting the site.

You can wander around the unearthed settlement walls and get a feeling for the old walled community. The fabled golden pillars of antiquity, however, are probably just that: a fable elaborated from Bedouin tales.

The Quran states that God destroyed Ubar because the ancient people of the Ad civilisation were decadent and had turned away from religion, but archaeologists are more inclined to believe that it fell into a collapsed limestone cavern or sink hole. The site of this calamity is easy to see today, the remains shored up rather unsympathetically in concrete.

Predictably, there are many who dispute the rediscovery of Ubar. Excavations at the site have shown nothing of sufficient age to verify the claims and some chess pieces suggest a much later period of habitation. So is it worth the effort of bouncing along a graded track into the middle of nowhere to see not very much? For the historian, the romantic, or the plain curious, the site, in the middle of a great stony plain, offers the chance to peer through a hole in the desert at a legend laid bare.

The route from Thumrait is now paved and signposted from the main road.

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