The Forts of Oman – A Walk Through History
Oman is known for many things, but among the most grand attractions are its forts and palaces. The state has a colourful history comprising of influences from Islamic rulers, the Portuguese and even parts of east Africa. Due to its diverse environment, various tourist destinations and cultural richness, hordes of tourists travel to Oman every year. In fact, Muscat, the capital and biggest city of Oman, has been aptly named the second best city to visit in the world according to the travel guide published by Lonely Planet in 2012. The Arab tourism ministers’ council has also selected Muscat as the capital of Arab tourism for 2012.
The castles of Oman look magnificent with their high towers and strong walls. These forts were also the seats of power with administrators and judicial authorities residing within their hallowed halls. To guard the 1,700 km long coastline of the state, there were in all around 500 castles, forts and towers. The architectural styles vary due to the various rulers who invaded and ruled over the region at different periods in history.
The Al Jalali and Al Mirani forts are probably the most famous and unarguably the grandest of them all. They stand proudly at the entrance to Muscat bay. Mirani is much older and was built even before the Portuguese set foot on Oman’s shores. Although it was originally supposed to be a tower, the Portuguese invaders rebuilt it in 1588 and added emplacements, stores, living quarters for high ranking army officials and also an area dedicated to worship. Later, Islamic ruler Imam Ahmed bin Said founded the state of Al Busaidi and enlarged Mirani to its current size.
The Portuguese completed construction of what is now known as the fort Al Jalali in 1597. It was reconstructed to its current state by Sayyid Said bin Sultan. Both the Al Jalali and Al Mirani Forts are situated on Qasr Al Alam Street and are now open to tourists in the form of museums displaying historical relics of the great city.
The tallest and one of the oldest is the Rustaq fort. It is surrounded by watch towers for guards and was built somewhere in the 13th century BC. The 4 towers are called Al Burj Al Ahmar, Al Burj Al Hadeeth, Al Burj Al Reeh;and Al Burj Ashiateen. The tower of Al Burj Ashiateen has raised curiosity among historians and people who travel to Oman due to its queer, name which means the devil’s tower. The fort consists of many rooms, a mosque, an armoury and even a prison. Situated in the old part of the town on the Batinah Coast, it is open for tourists on all days of the week except Friday.
Bahla Fort with its 7 mile long walls is an intimidating structure. It is said that the long walls were guarded by sentries all through the year. The fort has an interesting internal structure, which although as strong as modern day mortar, is built out of mud, gypsum and sarooj. Due to its unique nature, it has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is located on the Oasis of Bahla, 25 km west of Nazwah. Tourists may even find places to shop for local artifacts in Souq Bahla near the fort.
The Nizwa Fort is the biggest in the entire Arabian Peninsula. It was built by Imam Sultan bin Saif al Ya’arubi in 1668. The fort is an imposing circular structure with an external diameter of 150 feet and with over 115 feet high walls! It was the headquarters of the King and a stronghold, which could withstand even the most dangerous attacks. It is around 175 km from Muscat. The best time to visit is on weekdays, so that you can experience the local market in its full swing.
The last on our list, though definitely not the least is the Jabrin Fort. Built by Imam Sultan bin Saif Al Ya’arubi in 1670, it was his living quarters and stronghold. The fine carvings on its walls and ceilings done by the most skilled artists of that time are every tourist’s delight. Elaborate drawings of flowers, symbols and runes cover the rooms and balconies too. Situated not very far from Nizwa, the fort is also the final resting place for Imam Bil’arab which attracts locals as well as tourists. The fort is a must visit for every history lover planning to travel to Oman.
This article was contributed by Rajesh S Ullal
Photo Credits – Flickr: #1 Kewl, #2 Keirn, #3 yeowatzup, #4 Arian Zwegers