Ancient Omani Water Streams (Falaj)

Posted on 19th October 2016
Ancient Omani Water Streams (Falaj)

By: Dr.Marwan Imran

Edited By: Karina De Jesus Murphy


The Falaj is one of the oldest irrigation systems in Sultanate of Oman since the old Kingdom of Magan in 2370 BC. Omani people used to rely on this type of agriculture system in the old primitive life. With the local name, canals or water stream, it was built by traditional methods through the skills and experience in irrigation systems from old Magan to the present where there are still irrigation in the valleys near the foothills, mountains, or plains of many agricultural fields.

Often, this kind of Falaj streams from underground water sourced from springs or eyes in the foothills of the mountains and geologically called, underground water table. The people of Oman adopted the old traditional engineering pattern in irrigation, according to historical references, and are the first to work in organizing these tables or Al-Falaj depending on their experience in the ground and high skills in agriculture during the first millennium BC.([1]).

Some historical references mentioned Falaj as an old Semitic word in an origin ([2]), but we don’t have clear proof of its accuracy at present. The word Falaj means, “water canal or duct”. The total account of Falaj in Oman is approximately 4112 bearing different names depending on the time, place and the incident because some of these have been associated with tales of the past from the 10th Century BC such as Al- Daoudi Falaj, whose name has been associated with the Prophet Solomon, son of David, by some of the old stories related to the popular transmitted legends. The legend says, “One day, Suleiman bin Da’ud flying on his daily journey from Persepolis to Jerusalem, was blown off course by a strong wind. When he looked down, the great king Solomon, son of David, saw in the strange landscape of Oman a splendid castle. And he sent down his spirits to investigate. They reported that an eagle lived there ,always had, and that the only inhabitants of the land were Bedu Arab tribesmen, and Suleiman bin Da’ud commanded his spirits to dig for water in the mountains to produce Alfalaj water channels , a thousand a day .And he stayed for ten days”([3]).

Other studies referred to some types of Falaj depending upon the strength and time the flowing water streams ([4]). There is another type named, Al-Falaj Al-gheila and Al-Aini. The traditional system of Al-Falaj movement was flowing from high to the lower land which is called locally as, Alallayh ([5]). The lower land is called, Al-Safla, the traditional system for irrigation in Aflaj, which the people of Oman still rely on until the present time.

The Sultanate of Oman has been well known in most countries in the Arab world after the discovery and development of the irrigation system using Aflaj system, which was considered as one of the most important sources of agriculture since the past.

In 2006 five Omani Falaj were awarded UNESCO world heritage status in recognition of their exceptional culture value, these include Falaj (Daris –Al-Khatmayn and Al-Malaki) in Al-Dakhylian Government ,Falaj ( Al-Muyassar) in south of Al-Batina Government and Falaj(Al-Jayla) in south Ash-Sharqiya Government([6]).

[1] – Peter Vann. Oman heritage. London: Immel Publishing ltd.1995.pp.41-46.

[2] – Ibid.p.42.

[3] -) Ann and Dray Hill. The Sultanate of Oman, A heritage. Forwarded by: Colin Maxwell. London & new York, Longman press, first published 1977

[4] – The Omani Encyclopedia.Vol.A.Sultanate of Oman, Ministry of Heritage and culture, first edition,2013 pp.256-258.

[5] – Nihad Al-Qanawati and others.Nizwa and Sohar before 30 years ago. Glance of the past. Lebanon: Al-Shamali publishing house, first edition, 2003.p.66.

[6] – National Museum of Oman.2016