The Doors of Oman

I’ve travelled and worked in Oman for the past three years, but it was during this year’s field season that one specific architectural feat stood out that wasn’t on my radar before— doors. Omani doors are captivating and there is no shortage of variety. They can be made out of wood, metal, or both. The color combinations, textures, and decorative details are seemingly endless. This photo essay post takes you through some of the doors of Oman and gives you an inside look into some of the stories behind them.

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The front door to the guest house in Bat, Oman.

After one of my interviews, I asked my interviewee, who was remodeling her house, ‘Why is so much care and thought put into doors?’ She softly laughed and explained that doors are often the first thing a guest sees when they are entering your home and you want to make a good impression. Fair enough. Pictured above is the front door to the house I stay in when I conduct fieldwork in Bat, Oman. It definitely makes an impression!

the-doors-of-oman-boat
A metal door with seascapes and boat motifs.

When I saw this door with its intricate metal workings of sea imagery, I had to smile. Why? The area where this door is located is a good 120 kilometers away from the coast, but what’s even more interesting is that local rock art, around 1000 years old, also displays boat motifs. The appeal of seascapes and ship imagery appears to continue from antiquity to the present.

the-doors-of-oman-falaj
Door to a mjaza.

This door leads to a mjaza, which is private washroom for women. A mjaza is usually located directly on a falaj channel in oasis villages. Over the past twenty years, families have been moving out of oasis villages and building houses with indoor showers and plumbing. Mjaza use amongst Omani women has drastically decreased as a result.

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A colorfully painted metal door.

As we approached this house, my friend told me that this was an old door that made her feel happy. We were about to interview her aunt, whom she loved dearly and this colorful door served as a reminder of all the memories she had and continues to have in this house.

the-doors-of-oman-unpainted
An unpainted metal door.

Pictured above is an unpainted metal door. The family who owns the door meant to paint it, but this task fell to the wayside over the years. Now they feel that the door is old and out-of-fashion, so they are are going to get a new one.

the-doors-of-oman-wooden-from-mudbrick
A wooden door in the historical mud-brick village of Majzi.

This is half of a wooden door that was found in the historical mud-brick village of Majzi. As people began to move out of concentrated oasis villages, they left their mud-brick homes. Many oasis villages in Oman have areas where the old mud-brick houses still stand (though no one lives in them). Majzi was quite interesting because not only were the structures standing and well-preserved, but there were so many historical artifacts still remaining in the houses, including this carved wooden door.

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Door to a mosque.

While many newer doors are made out of metal, wooden doors still hold value and significance. Pictured above is a door to a mosque in the al Hajar region of Oman. The featured rosette flower design is a motif that can be found in the ancient world (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, etc.) and its popularity persists to into present in many Middle Eastern countries, including Oman.

the-doors-of-oman-simple-wooden
Wooden door surrounded by ‘brick’.

Some doors diverge from traditionally popular aesthetics and play with different themes. This door was located right across the street from the mosque door mentioned above. The color of the wood and the faux brick design reminds me of various rustic architectural features that I have seen in the US.

the-doors-of-oman-painted-frame
A door surrounded by painted nature imagery and stained glass flowers.

Sometimes the door itself is not the key eye-catcher. In this instance painted images of forests and waterfalls, along with stained glass flowers are the features that are meant to catch your attention. Natural themes are quite popular when it comes to painted designs in Oman.

the-doors-of-oman-camel
Camel door!

On the way to an interview in the al Hajar region, this door caught everyone’s attention. Actually, it was the camels surrounding the door. Though the house was located a good 100-150m away from the road (which is why the picture is blurry), the camels could still be seen from quite a distance.

the-doors-of-oman-school
Door to a school in Dhank.

This colorfully painted door leads to an elementary school in Dhank. These vibrantly painted doors are a feature of many elementary schools around Oman. Such designs leave the impression that the doors lead to an inviting, fun, and creative place.

the-doors-of-oman-agriculture
Door to a farm.

This style of door, especially the arrow-like designs at the top border, typically lead to a farm. Throughout my interviews with local farmers, this door design would pop up over and over again.

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An abandoned metal door.

There was no more love for this door! This abandoned metal door was found outside of a newly-bought farm from one of my interviewees. They had just purchased a new door and this older door was now discarded to the side.

the-doors-of-oman-maglis
Door to a majlis.

This door leads to a majlis, which, in this context, is a community meeting space. During this field season, I saw that many villages were constructing a new majlis for their residents. This newly built majlis in Majzi has a bold brown door, which nicely contrasts with the soft pinkish sand-colored features of the rest of the building.

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A souvenir door magnet.

My intrigue with Omani doors was further validated when I stumbled across this magnet at the Muscat International Airport. The doors of Oman are such a striking feature that they earned a place as one of the symbolic representations of Oman…well at least in this gift shop! Still, that has to count for something!

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  • I was very excited to read your post on ‘The Doors of Oman. Absolutely brilliant! I am truly intrigued by the whole concept of ‘doors’ and their symbolism. It’s a long story but last year my son visited Slovenia, and I asked him to visit the exhibition on doors at the Ethnographic Museum in Llublijana.: http://www.etno-muzej.si/en/razstave/doors-spatial-and-symbolic-passageways-of-life. One had to be part of the conducted tour to find out (in English) who had actually lived behind those doors ~ so unfortunately I am none the wiser as to who they were. I did however use the idea for a creative writing exercise with a group of Grade 6 children (11 – 12 year olds) and the results were very interesting indeed. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us all ~ and happy travelling

    • Hi Alison! Thanks for the note and the link. That seems like a fascinating exhibit and I enjoyed reading the excerpt on the website. I hope to see it in person one day!

      That’s great that the exhibit helped with a creative writing exercise for 6th graders. I am really happy that some of the topics that I discuss resonate in a wide variety of classrooms. Thanks again!

Smiti Nathan

I’m an archaeologist that travels around the world for both work and pleasure. I have a penchant for exploring ancient and modern places and the people, plants, and foods entangled in them. I write about archaeology, travel, and productivity.

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