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What to see & do in Borama

Borama is the trio that lies within a 25km radius of the modern town. Abasa, the best preserved of these three ancient ruins, is also the most remote, situated about 25km north of Borama as the crow flies, and double that distance by road.

By contrast, while the Qorgab ruins lie within walking distance of central Borama, and the Amoud ruins are only 10km east of town, neither is likely to convey much to the casual visitor.

If you plan on visiting any of these ruins, a local guide will be invaluable, as will a letter of permission from the tourist office in Hargeisa.

The precise history and contemporary names of Awdal’s ancient settlements is a matter of conjecture since there are few local traditions relating to them, but much can be deduced from the limited excavations that have taken place so far.

All three cities are constructed around large central mosques, confirming they post-date the arrival of Islam in the region, and the largest contained upwards of 200 houses with stone walls that originally stood more than 5m tall.

Numerous Chinese pottery fragments assignable to the 12th to 15th century Sung and Ming dynasties have been uncovered at these and other more remote sites of a similar type, while other findings demonstrate direct or indirect medieval trade links with India and Mediterranean Europe. Several 15th and 16th-century Egyptian coins have also been uncovered.

All  of  this  strongly  suggests  that  these  ruined  towns  flourished  as  waypoints along a trade route that connected Zeila to Harar from medieval times until 1655, after  which  the  Adal  Sultanate  fell  into  decline  and  Oromo  expansion  isolated Harar from the coast.

Exactly when the likes of Amoud and Abasa were abandoned is unknown,  but the substantial ruins that still remained at these sites until the 1930s are now greatly diminished in size and impact, largely due to locals having removed the old stones for reuse as house-building material.

Qorgab ruins: Only 3km southeast of the main intersection in Borama, the ruined city of Qorgab (also known as Qoorgaab; (N 9°55.722, E 43°11.898) pre-dates its present-day counterpart by three or four centuries. Several interesting discoveries were made during early excavations at the site,  among them a  rounded copper bar measuring 10cm long and a roughly made oval pottery lamp.

Unfortunately, though, there isn’t much to see today, and you’d need an archaeologist’s eye and artist’s imagination to extract much from the surviving house foundations and old rows of stones that presumably once demarcated roads. In their favor, however, the ruins are very easy to get to from Borama.

Follow the Amoud road east from the main intersection for about 500m, then turn right onto a  network of rough side roads that slope downwards to a  normally dry watercourse on the town’s outskirts.

Follow the vehicular track that runs through the watercourse, emerging on the south bank alongside a cemetery of stone cairns and meter-high grave markers that we were  (somewhat improbably)  told are pre-Christian.  What little of the ruined city remains,  lies on the slopes of  Bur Qorgab, the hillock to your right, no more than 500m from the watercourse.

Amoud ruins Situated at an altitude of 1,475m, some 10km southeast of Borama, the ruined city of Amoud (also known as Amud; (N 9°55.632, E 43°14.969) extends over 10ha of rocky slopes overlooking the Amoud Valley, close to the eponymous watercourse and university.

As with other stone towns in Awdal, Amoud appears to have thrived as a trade center in medieval times, but some sources indicate it might be a lot older than this. The town is also the burial place of several important Somali religious leaders, including its namesake Saint Amud, and it remained an important pilgrimage site well into the 20th century.

Photographs from the 1930s show that the tall stone walls of the city’s courtyard houses, complete with triangular niches,  were still partially intact at that time, while contemporary excavations unearthed multi-colored bead jewelry and a wealth of Chinese ceramics.

Today, there’s barely a wall left standing, just a sprawl of stony mounds where the houses used to be, although you can pick out the shape of several roads and a solitary well. No excavations have been undertaken since the 1930s and very little is known about the people who lived here.

To get some idea of how  Amoud looked in its prime,  archaeologist  G  W  D Huntingford, who made a tentative study of the site in the 1930s, published the following description entitled The Town of Amud, Somalia in Azania XIII: The houses are scattered about without any apparent plan; there are no streets and no trace of a surrounding wall. There is a mosque in the southern half of the dwelling area … [with a] rather oddly built mihrab facing the entrance … and immediately to the south … is the cemetery. There are upwards of two hundred houses, all well-built of stone [and] as much as 2.6m in height … The number of rooms ranges from two to four … there is sometimes no sign of an entrance to the inner rooms. This implies that entry was made from the roof, which was doubtless flat and reached by steps now vanished … There are many niches or cupboards in the inner walls.

To get to Amoud, follow the main road out of Borama east along a decent surfaced track that leads after 4km to Amoud University, which comprises a scattering of British colonial and more modern buildings, set in austere grounds flanking a wide (but usually dry) watercourse. From here, a rougher dirt road – just about navigable in a saloon car, at least in dry conditions – crosses the watercourse before ascending to the hilltop ruins.

Abasa ruins  Abasa  (N  10°08.028,  E  43°12.998),  the most impressive of the ruins around Borama, is accessible by 4×4 only. It’s a bone-rattling 2-hour drive that entails following the Zeila road northwest, then heading northeast to the village of Bon (or Bown), before taking a rough 15km track to the east.

The ruins here are far better preserved than their counterparts at Amoud, not least because an infestation of exotic cacti has protected the stones from being collected as home-building material.

The old city extends over several hectares and the walls of several of the rectangular houses are still partially intact.  The main attraction is the old mosque, whose handsome arches collapsed as recently as the 1930s. Still standing are several of the original cylindrical and cruciform supporting columns, which stand up to 4m tall.

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