Once known as “Sweat of the Gods” by ancient Egyptians, frankincense (meaning “pure incense in Old French) is one of Oman’s greatest natural treasures and valuable resources. Though the tree genus that produces the frankincense resin is grown throughout Somalia, Yemen, and even parts of China, Boswellia sacra, claimed to produce the highest-quality frankincense, is only found in Oman. Journeying through the Land of Frankincense, a UNESCO World Heritage site encompassing 850ha in Dhofar, one can trace Oman’s historical trade of the mystical aroma. Starting from Wadi Dawkah, where these trees naturally grow, frankincense traders would travel from the ports of Khor Rori or Al-Baleed to reach far-away markets in China and India, or travel over the Arabian Desert to reach markets in the Greek and later Roman Empire.
While frankincense may not be worth its weight in gold today as in years past (though it still comes with a hefty price in its most distilled form), it still has its place in Omani culture. While strolling through Muscat’s Mutrah Souq, one can find sellers of amber-, caramel-, and cream-colored frankincense nuggets. Previously valued as a panacea for a number of body ailments, today it is used in medicines and teas to promote healthy digestion and skin. Its smell is said to ward off snakes, mosquitos, and even djinns, and it is burned in its incense form after a meal as symbol of hospitality and status symbol in Omani homes.
That is why it comes as no surprise that frankincense has been chosen as the symbol of Oman’s pavilion at the Dubai Expo, tying together tradition along with modernity. The pavilion’s exterior, designed by Adi Architecture, will resemble the frankincense tree, while inside will include five zones describing the ways in which the resin has benefitted Oman over centuries, from medicine to food and cosmetics.