Ubar – Ubar, Oman - Atlas Obscura


Ubar, Oman

Some claim these desert ruins are from the legendary "Atlantis of the Sands."  


Ubar is the Arabian equivalent of Atlantis, except that instead of sinking to the bottom of the sea, legend says it disappeared into the desert sands. It’s even been dubbed the “Atlantis of the Sands.” Ubar and Atlantis have something else in common, too—there’s no unanimous consensus that either ever even existed.

Finding the skeleton of a city that perhaps never existed can be a daunting proposition, but explorers and scholars are well aware of the prestige they could gain should they discover the ruins. This is fertile ground, where legends and archaeological studies plant their seeds for wild speculations to grow.

According to one of these speculations, the ruins of Ubar have been found in the village today known as Shisr in Dhofar Region, Oman. The ruins found in Shisr are officially named Ubar. Whether or not the ruins called Ubar in Shisr are actually the remains of the legendary Ubar is contested.

Archaeological excavations suggest this outpost was involved in the incense trade, meaning it may have been a sizable settlement. The ruins suggest there used to be a fort surrounded by eight walls with a tower at each corner, a description that matches the description of the legendary Ubar in ancient documents. Furthermore, part of this fort collapsed when a sinkhole formed underneath, and several feet of sand eventually covered all the ruins. The fort in Shisr, therefore, literally sank into the desert sands.

Sections of the fort still stand at the edge of the sinkhole and can be accessed by visitors. Other parts have sunk lower, but some are still clearly visible. At the deepest end of the sinkhole, a tunnel has been built that leads farther down underground, where the remains of sunken walls can be found. The reason why only the ruins of the fort have remained can be explained by the fact that people probably lived in tents at the time, and it was not uncommon for a fort to be the only permanent structure of a city.

Know Before You Go

Route 43 goes through Shisr, but it is not paved. A new paved road (yet unnamed) links Shisr to Road 31, a major artery running on a North/South axis. North of Ubar is the beginning of the Empty Quarter, the harshest and (arguably) most beautiful part of the Arabian Desert.

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