Oases: crucibles of prosperity and portals into the past
Oases are magnets for settlement, providing water, agricultural land and materials for building, it’s where water can be found to irrigate crops, the soil, rocks, and palm trees can be used as building materials. It is a perfect example of a self-sustaining community. If prosperity can the risk of attack. The buildings can then be enhanced to become a source of security.
We will look closely at two Oases, the Bahla Oasis with its Bahla Fort in Oman and the Siwa Oasis with the Shali Fortress in Egypt and recognising the importance of such fortresses for the traditional security of the communities and as
a seat of power.
The concentration of wealth, learning and power led to an influence well beyond their natural boundaries, as the oases became a nexus connecting people, a vital staging post for trade routes and a place for sharing knowledge like the ports that fringed the coast.
The picture below shows the traditional Omani design of ship which opened these maritime trade routes.
But the very features that formed the oases over the centuries and created their prosperity can also be make them vulnerable. Markets for commodities change, new trade routes emerge, climate and water resources can change. Urban living can provide a richness and sophistication that traditional oasis communities cannot match. These themes can be seen in the stories of the Siwa and Bahla oases.
Looking closely at oases we can see how much they have changed in from the perspectives of their geography, crafts, economies, and communities.
The oases of Siwa and Bahla are more than 4000 km apart, on separate continents, but today they share many of the same challenges and potential some of the same opportunities.
Both communities are face by the challenge of protecting the environment to ensure water use and agriculture is sustainable. Changes in trade routes have forced communities to explore new opportunities and see heritage as a key element in reimagining economies that were originally built around trade. That leads to the challenge of preserving the authenticity of their structures and caring for old buildings when the materials needed are no longer widely used or skills shared with a new generation. The challenges have become more acute with a tourism industry suddenly undermined by a global pandemic; and finally there is the need to create employment opportunities come from for a new generation or they may leave for the cities.
But there are emerging opportunities. There are new ways of telling their history such as through immersive storytelling. Eco-tourism bringing a new, more sustainable approach to attracting travellers. Sharing their rich histories can provide a sense of identity and inspiration for the future, and strengthen the resilience of communities in the face of such challenges.
Looking closely and connecting broadly at these oasis communities we can ‘see a World in a Grain of Sand’ as the English poet William Blake wrote. Examining the grains of sand around the Siwa oasis we can see how these grains reflect 3 million years of history when the Sahara Desert was once part of the Mediterranean Sea.
Examining the grains of sand in a wall in Bahla, we see a hint of local stories in the finish of the mudwork.
Reflecting on these great histories and rich pictures, it leads us to a number of questions:
· How can we help make their rich and deep stories alive and as accessible as possible?
· How can we create the catalyst that will enable a new generation to explore the opportunities of a digital tools and a more connected world.
· How might this lead to new types of businesses and employment opportunities?
· How do these activities fit in the broader framework of the Sustainable Development Goals?
In both oases we can learn from the past to imagine a richer, more sustainable future.
We will be exploring all these themes in this new webinar series.