The Governorate of Dhofar is located in the south of the Sultanate. The coastal strip stretches for 560km, and the region has an area of around 1,500km2, of which only 130km2 are affected by the monsoon rains. The coast of Dhofar is a haven for the fishing industries and sardines are one of the most prolific fish in the catch as well as lobsters, abalone and prawns. Agriculture is a main industry in Dhofar and crops such as coconuts, bananas, sweet potatoes (yams), lemons, papaya, wheat and corn are grown. Traditional crafts include blacksmithing, goldsmithing, embroidery and needlework. 

Dhofar is an area rich in history. In 1992, an American satellite discovered the remains of a city submerged beneath the sands of the Omani section of the Rub' al Khali (the Empty Quarter). Initial speculation indicated that this was the legendary city, Iram Dhat al Emad, distinguished by its imposing columns and high walls, which is mentioned in the Quran. The site has been subject to much exploration and study by archaeologists who have dated pottery and glass vessels excavated from the area at around 100BC. It has also been ascertained that the city sank under the sands due to what has been deemed a 'light earthquake'. This could be the 'clamour' which is referred to in the Quran: '..a great clamour was heard in the sky and Shaddad and all who accompanied him were struck down' - and the city sank below the ground.

The Dhofar region is subdivided into 9 wilayats. Its climate is dramatically different to the rest of Oman due to the effects of the monsoon rains (khareef) which arrive during the summer months, creating humidity and moderate temperatures of around 300C. As a consequence, the area becomes lush and green, with waterfalls and rivers feeding the surrounding pastures. The mountain ridge, which receives the most rain, stretches for 400km from east to west. During the khareef, springs gush forth and provide plentiful water supplies for much of the rest of the year. The fresh greenery is ideal for cattle grazing and livestock rearing is an important occupation in the area.

The wilayat of Salalah, which is the administrative capital of Dhofar, lies on the Arabian Sea, around 1040km from Muscat in the north. The city has been subject to many historical and archaeological studies over the years and evidence has been found in the form of writing, inscriptions and signs indicating that a number of different civilizations have succeeded each other here. 

The Manjawi civilization dwelt in the district of Belid between the 12th and 16th centuries. At this time, the area was renowned for its thriving import and export activities, the main exports being Arabian horses and frankincense. It is thought that Ahmed bin Mohammed al Haboudhi rebuilt the city and renamed it Al Mansourah (The Victorious) and this status was reaffirmed in the writings of explorers Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta. There are three archaeological sites in Al Mughsil with traces of ancient walls, tombs and mosques. 

Not all the sights in Salalah belong to the past, however. This wilayat contains stunning beaches and steep, mountainous landscapes. The rocky outcrops on the beach in Mughsil contain many blowholes which burst dramatically during high tide. Salalah is developing as a tourist resort and is attracting a number of international hotel chains such as Holiday Inn and Hilton. Port Salalah, completed in 1998, is destined to become one of the world's most important container terminals. Its construction has provided jobs for many Omanis.

The wilayat of Thumrayt is located at the juncture of all the principal roads linking Dhofar to the rest of the Sultanate. In the past, it has been a forwarding post on the overland caravan routes to the ports on the Arabian Sea. It is believed that the lost city of Ubar is in Shisr in Thumrayt. Ubar was the mythical city mentioned in the 'Tales of the Arabian Nights'. Much of Dhofar's frankincense was grown in this area and the ancient people would warn outsiders of dangers such as 'flying snakes' in order to keep them away and thus protect their livelihood. In Mashid, there are many fresh water springs, which are noted for their depth and which meander through beautiful scenery. Traditional caravan routes are still maintained in Thumrayt and the local inhabitants harvest the frankincense each April. Crafts include spinning and weaving wool, tent-making and palm-frond weaving.

Wilayat Taqah falls between Salalah and Marbat on the Dhofari coastline. Taqah was once a prosperous port and has been a significant trading centre of the ancient world. Some of the most famous remains in this area are found at Samhuran, an ancient city which is thought to date back to 3000BC. Old though these remains may be, inscriptions are still visible in the walls and columns of the citadel. Frankincense was the main export, which found its way to Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt in 1500BC. A drawing of a Pharaonic ship docked at Samhuran is still displayed in a temple in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. The Queen of Sheba also dispatched a boatload of frankincense from this port as a gift to Prophet Solomon (son of David). In 1952, the 'American Foundation for the Study of Man' discovered the remains of stone sculptures and carvings, pre-Islamic tombs and a citadel which is thought to be part of the ancient city of Taqah. Modern day Taqah has silver-white beaches, fresh water springs, caves and grottos which make the district popular with visitors. 

The wilayat of Marbat is on the central strip of the Dhofari coast and its name is believed to have come from marabat al khail (lit. place where horses are tied up). Marbat was famed for breeding Arabian horses which were exported, along with frankincense, to India and East Africa. It has a spectacular landscape, from its coastline to the impressive peaks of Jebel Samhan, the highest of which stands at 4754ft. 

The Citadel of Marbat was built in the traditional Omani style of defensive architecture, which is atypical of many of the structures built in the area. Agriculture is a seasonal activity here, mainly confined to the Tawi A'teer region. Beans, mangoes, cucumbers and corn are the main crops. Marbat is rich in natural springs, caves and grottos.

One of the most popular crafts is making majmars, the Dhofari-style incense burners, which are decorated in yellow, green, blue and red geometric designs. 

Sadah, 135 km from Salalah, was a trading port for frankincense export. Sadah has an impressive fort and the sub-district of Hasek has the remains of an ancient city as well as a mausoleum to the Prophet Saleh bin Hud on the slopes of Jebel Nous. There are long stretches of clean white beaches, dramatic cliffs and scenery. The mountains contain caves and grottos and the spring called Ain Laja is the source water for the city's drinking supply. Honey production is popular in this wilayat, as well as livestock breeding and herding. Diving for oysters is still well practised.

Wilayat Rakhyut is in the south east corner of Dhofar, neighbouring Salalah. In ancient times, Rakhyut was a seaport station on the sea caravan routes to India and East Africa, exporting frankincense and other local products. The area is mountainous and has a convoluted coastline distinguished by inlets and bays. Pearl diving is still carried out by the locals who seek the precious gem from the oysters.

Dhalkut is located on the far west of Dhofar and has enjoyed its own merchant sea trade with the ports of the Gulf and Yemen, exporting leather, honey, figs and frankincense. This wilayat has many springs which burst forth from the wadis of the Jebel al Qamar (Mountains of the Moon). The caves and grottos in the area have provided shepherds and flocks with safe refuge from adverse weather conditions for centuries. Certain caves, such as Mashloul and Asbir contain ancient wall inscriptions.

The wilayat of Muqshin is adjacent to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the west. It is famed for its date plantations and abundant ground water supplies and in bygone days, was an important caravan centre of the Rub al' Khali as well as a base camp for the desert's explorers. Archaeological exploration has revealed tools and inscriptions dating back to the Stone Age. Its inhabitants mainly breed camels or cultivate date plantations.

The wilayat of Shalim and the Hallaniyat Islands lies in the east of Dhofar, some 310km from Salalah. Past exports from this area included dried fish, charcoal and frankincense which were traded with Africa and India. There are a number of historical sites in this district, many of them pre-Islamic. The Hallaniyat Islands are a safe haven for migratory birds and the marine life from the surrounding waters. Many turtles breed on the Hallaniyat Islands and there are large dolphin populations. In Rahab, on the mainland, there is an experimental farm which is cultivating certain grasses and edible fruits and vegetables. If the project is successful, barren stretches of land in Oman may be exploited agriculturally. 


The Dhofari people started large scale exploitation of frankincense 8000 years ago. Dhofari frankincense has played a very important role in commercial enterprises between the Arab regions and the Asian and African civilisations. Ancient Sumerian inscriptions refer to bokhur (incense) and it is thought that this incense travelled by ship from Oman to Sumer, Bahrain and parts of Iraq.

At the beginning of April each year, labourers harvest the crop of frankincense by making incisions in the olibanum (frankincense) tree. A sticky, milky white resin congeals on the trunk of the tree, which is harvested 14 days later. A second harvest will then be gathered, but this is generally of a lower standard to the initial batch. A third harvest releases a 'prime quality' frankincense which is yellow. One tree can yield between 10 - 20 kg of frankincense per season. The annual harvest of Dhofari frankincense can be as much as 7,000 tonnes which is worth around RO 3 million. Incense is used at Arabic wedding and birth ceremonies, as well as by the Vatican and Roman Catholic churches across the world. 

Frankincense is not only used as incense, it also has certain medical properties. The people of Dhofar will add a few lumps of olibanum to their drinking water, which they believe acts as a diuretic and cleanses the kidneys. It is used to staunch internal and external bleeding, to aid in fat elimination and to cure forgetfulness. Aromatherapists use frankincense oil as an aid to depression and in Salalah, it is customary to waft the incense around the home before the household awakes in order to bring harmony to the inhabitants through the day. Frankincense also provides the added bonus of being an insect repellent.