of the week – except Friday – it is easy to find a metal
worker tooling next to his red-hot furnace, or a weaver assembling a
goat hair cloak. But the king of craft in Bahla is pottery.
art is famous throughout the Sultanate and beyond. It is said that the
potters of Bahla – apart from being born of land containing very
special clay – are born with magic in their fingers. The fruits
of this magic can be seen in modest homes through to top hotels from
Mutrah to Mikonos.
used in these vessels comes from the wadi floor, and to make it pliable
enough to be worked on the wheel, men trample upon it. Any workshop
in Bahla worth its salt has at least one dining-table-sized slab of
clay covered in footprints fresh from its latest stamping. It is a time-honoured
way to soften the clay before it is worked and reworked into a thing
A potter working at his wheel is oddly like creation itself. As long
strokes are performed time and time again on the damp clay, shapes and
sizes start to emerge. Patterns being seemingly woven into the air transpose
themselves onto the object. Slowly and patiently rims develop and spouts
appear as the magic fingers mould and curve the softened earth. While
the electric potter's wheel is in wide use, it is possible to find a
traditionalist or two who continue to cling to their much loved kick
mesmerising vision so don't be surprised to suddenly realise an hour
has passed just watching the potters' hypnotic performance. After this
ritual of creation, the objects are packed carefully into a huge kiln
to be fired.
Over the years kilns have changed significantly in Bahla from the original
small dome-shaped oven that was a little more than a metre wide to huge
multi-level structures that, while still very traditional, are stacked
and only sealed and fired up when they have dozens of pieces inside.
literally hundreds of potters and the region has always been considered
a market leader when it comes to cottage industry. However, as fine
workmanship became more widely known, demand increased and many industries
have gone from simple backyard businesses to thriving industries.
the elaborate kilns that dot the lovely landscape flatly show that the
pottery pursuit for many has surpassed the 'cottage' cliché. The most
contemporary type of kiln is large and square with four posts at each
corner acting as chimneys. It is easy to not realise what these edifices
are until to you get too close to one in action. The heat can be felt
from several metres away and a mirage radiates around them. While most
of these ovens are still fed traditional palm fronds, the voracious
appetites of more recent arrivals require fronds and a rich supply of
a small bowl will cost as little as 100 baisa while a large decorative
pot has a price tag of RO12.
One business – the Alladawi Clay Pots Factory – typifies
the growing nature of traditional pot making. Four industrial size kilns
are in constant use and each oven produces about 100 large pieces a
month. The grounds of the factory are connected to current and defunct
pits from where the clay was drawn. It also has its own industrial mixer
that saves time and money on the immense task of creating the clay by
result is a seemingly endless source of bukure burners, bowls, water
holders and storage urns. The current factory has been operating since
1993 but its earlier life as a backyard business is evident when you
observe the different styles of architecture as buildings have been
entrance to Bahla is a small pottery works that was developed by the
government with some help from Chinese experts. In fact, Beijing has
donated a lot of equipment and provided some technology to help further
establish Bahla as a pottery capital. Shards of brightly coloured Chinese
pottery have recently been excavated on Omani sites.
is historically known for its genies and alchemy, it seems the best
magic is in the beautiful care taken when establishing the souk, which
is in the town square and shaded by a huge tree. In this souk, arguably
like every souk in the Sultanate, the magic of the potters' paw is for
sale in solid clay.
Oman Today Dec
- Jan 2001/02