‘Dhofar is a great noble and fine city, much white incense is produced here and I will tell you how it grows’ Marco Polo -1285
Frankincense is a white resin extracted from the Boswellia tree family. It can vary significantly in colour and this is one of the factors used to indicate its value.
The Frankincense tree dates back approximately 7,000 years and has been an important commodity across the world. It has a place in religion, has been given as a gift and has been used as part of a beatification process. At one point it was considered as valuable as gold.
Its history in the Sultanate of Oman can be seen in the Frankincense route – the trade centre for frankincense that has been listed in UNESCO’s world heritage list.
Omani Frankincense, and specifically the Dhofar Hojri Frankincense, is considered of the highest grade. This is due to the climate of the Dhofar region and the higher altitude at which the Frankincense trees grow.
The Frankincense Trail is a site in Oman on the Incense Road. The site includes Frankincense trees, Khor Rori and the remains of a caravan oasis which were crucial to the medieval incense trade.
The Frankincense Trail has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Frankincense trees of Wadi Dawkah and the remains of the caravan oasis of Shisr/Wubar and the affiliated ports of Khor Rori and Al-Baleed vividly illustrate the trade in Frankincense that flourished in this region for many centuries, as one of the most important trading activities of the ancient and medieval world.
The four components of the Land of Frankincense dramatically illustrate the trade in Frankincense that flourished in this region for many centuries. They constitute outstanding testimony to the civilizations of south Arabia that have existed since the Neolithic period. Frankincense trade flourished during the ancient and middle ages, thanks partly to the significant role played by this route. Another contributor was the historic port of Samhamram that became known for exporting Frankincense in Khor Rori region. Dhofari Frankincense is particularly significant in south Arabia.
Dhofari Frankincense started to gain importance during the New Stone Age. At that time, Dhofar was (and still is) a primary source of Frankincense. It was considered to be as valuable as gold and was even given as a gift to royalty. During this period Dhofari Frankincense was extremely important for some civilizations, especially Persians and Romans. It was often used in religious rituals and people were willing to pay any price in order to get it. China would often trade its impressive and extremely expensive pottery for Frankincense.
Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt obtained Dhofari Frankincense for beautification purposes, while others such as Alexander the Great and the King of Hadramaut attempted to control its trade routes near Dhofar. The latter even founded a port near the Frankincense export route in an attempt to assume control over it. This led to the discovery of Khor Rori at the entrance of the Frankincense trade route with Samhamram eventually being built over the remains. Frankincense even made its way to Western Europe and, from there, to countries even further afield.
With climate conditions that are ideal for the growth of Frankincense and not to be found anywhere else in the world; Dhofari Frankincense became distinguished from other types of Frankincense that grew in Yemen, the Arabian Peninsula or some African regions such as Somalia and Ethiopia due to its superior quality.