Why do Omanis avoid visiting ancient Bahla?

Locals believe that the 5,000-year-old town in the Arabian Peninsula, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is haunted by jinn.

The ancient mud-brick settlement of Bahla in the middle of Oman’s desert is an outstanding story that counts more than 5,000 years of human history and is a major attraction both for tourists and researchers. 

Yet, among the local folk the town has a reputation of being haunted by jinn – invisible spirits or ghosts with roots from pre-Islam culture – and refrain themselves as much as possible from walking into the place, according to IndependentArabia

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Although jinn are not necessarily evil and in fact may be positive creatures, like angels, Omani myths and legends have been holding them responsible for destruction and disease for centuries.

This hurts the economy, because fear and prejudice prevent from harvesting the fruit of tourism and science, and the country from integrating into the international travel circuit.

The Sultanate welcomed in 2023 around 3 million tourists, of which Indians and Germans constituted the most - 610,000 and 231,000, respectively, followed by Yemenis 150,000, and Chinese 118,000. Four years earlier, the number of foreign visitors constituted more than 4.1 million, according to official statistics.

No one knows exactly where did the jinn go wrong and there are no written records about their activities, aside perhaps from old tales, but religion is central in this Islamic nation and myths are stronger than laws.

One of the most captivating sightseeing is the Bahla fort, which dates back to the Middle Ages and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage in 1987. Young men who guide rare tours to the fort confess that they were doing their best to mobilize all their courage in order to enter the ancient city.

“Nobody wants to be eaten by jinn in the form of hyenas or get transformed into a donkey,” says one guide pointing to lost animals wandering among the Bahla ruins.

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