Mleiha, Late Pre-Islamic Center of a South-East Arabian Kingdom is part of the Tentative list of United Arab Emirates in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
Mleiha is an archaeological site of the Uman Kingdom, dating from between 300 BCE to 300 C. It is known for its mortuary practices and funerary architecture (tower tombs). Horse and camel burials have been discovered at the site as well.
Map of MleihaLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
You might wonder why Mleiha since 2017 has become an increasingly promoted excursion from Sharjah/Dubai? The interpretation and programing at Mleiha is exceptional. In February 2023, four new tentative nominations emerged from the Emirate of Sharjah. According to our guide, the Ruler of Sharjah and his daughter are obsessed with Archaeology and deeply invested in the discoveries at Mleiha.
To visit Mleiha and specifically to have access to each historic component you must visit the Mleiha Archaeological Centre and reserve the Archaeology Tour (in advance online), but probably no trouble to arrive on-site and pay then. We had reserved both of our tours well in advance, each tour related to TWHS nominations (Mleiha and Faya). We were more intrigued by the Faya Palaeolandscape, while Mleiha gave us more to "see". Our total experience was from about 2pm to 9pm, including travel from Dubai, both tours, and staying for the "panorama lounge" and stargazing, which was a free add-on (they weren't busy). The Mleiha Archaeological Centre does give a well-presented overview of the discoveries and value of the collection of archaeological sites. The women at the front desk were excited to have us and with enthusiasm welcomed us to Mleiha.
I think Mleiha can likely satisfy ICOMOS with criteria (ii) and criteria (iii). The discoveries at Mleiha are so recent that much of the story and its meaning continues to evolve. Below is the criteria proposed:
Criteria (ii): "The mortuary practices and funerary architecture discovered at Mleiha show important interchanges that involved cultural groups and civilizations across the Arabian Peninsula."
Criteria (iii): "Mleiha is an exceptional testimony to a civilization established in this corner of South-East Arabia during the Late Pre-Islamic period."
Criteria (iv): "The fort, palaces, and domestic buildings, as well as the monumental tombs found at the site are outstanding examples of structures that have little parallels elsewhere."
Visiting Mleiha will likely be expensive. For the 2 tours, we spent about 75 USD per individual. I wanted to be thorough, but you can choose just one tour as the Archaeological Tour provides some overlap with a visit to the Faya Caves. My tour guide accommodated us and personalized the tour since we selected both tours back-to-back and remained in the same vehicle, providing a few more stops and additional time as we wished. On more than one occasion, I simply said "What is that?" or "Can we stop there for a moment?" The tour guide(s) typically are stopping at the highlights (or the assumed highlights for casual visitors). Yet, this may not be sufficient for a World Heritage traveller, since many other components often make up a nomination. Every time, the guide was happy to oblige my request.
The "fort, palaces, and domestic buildings" tend to be foundations with a restored modern layer that makes them more pronounced. The "mortuary practices and funerary architecture" likely contribute the most to the sites potential OUV. I think in the end, Sharjah will be successful in gaining inscription, but Mleiha feels a bit underwhelming even if the experience is pleasant and enjoyable. I suspect the near perfect reviews of the Mleiha Archaeological Centre on Tripadvisor is likely due to many of the great experiences that are offered that include glamping, dune-bashing, BBQ, stargazing, etc. The museum is excellent and the programing and interpretation of the historic sites are well-done, yet the sites themselves will not "wow" anyone. They are not iconic in that regard, but they are remnants of a kingdom that until recently was largely unknown. The discoveries at Mleiha have provided great insight into this Arabian Peninsula civilization.
To Get There: Rental Car is the best option. However, there is a transfer option where Mleiha staff will pick you up. Prices are much more expensive than rental cars in the UAE. For example, round-trip transport will cost you about 130 USD.
Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.
2023 Added to Tentative List
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