Monday 21 July 2014

Oman The Land Of Forts

You must be thinking that what a post titled "Oman The Land Of Forts" is doing on this blog, which is supposed to be about historical and culturally important places of Pakistan. You must have seen that in almost all of my posts, I have deplored the bad conditions of our monuments or historically important buildings and total lack of interest of the society in general towards them and negligence towards their maintenance. So I thought to show my friends that how other countries take care of their heritage and take pride in that. 

A few months ago I had had an opportunity to visit Oman for just a week. And during that one week I managed to see eight forts. Here, I would like to add that Oman is a very old civilization in the Arabian Peninsula rivalling that of Yemen. In the recent past especially in the 19th century, Oman was an important trading state in the Indian Ocean and had extensive holdings along the eastern coast of Africa. Especially Zanzibar was a very important stronghold and trading post. But Oman gradually lost its all foreign possessions, last of those being Gwadar, purchased by Pakistan in 1958 for US$ 1 million. 

Oman is not a very rich country like Qatar, Kuwait, UAE or Saudi Arabia, but even then the government has spent considerable resources on the maintenance of their historical and cultural monuments. Actually Oman is a good example of good planning and management for achieving best results in limited resources. Credit goes to Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said (سلطان قابوس بن سعید آل سعید) who has literally took the country out of 19th century and brought it to 21st century, within forty four years of his rule. 

Oman has a very long tradition of fort building and foundations of some of them were laid down even before the arrival of Islam in the early 7th century. Almost every town in Oman has a fort of its own. So there are dozens of small and big forts scattered all over the country. The best thing about them is that nearly all of them have been restored to their original form and are extremely well maintained. Omani people take a great pride in their history and culture and hence take a great care of their monuments. That is why that a large number of tourists visit these forts and palaces and other natural wonders in the country. Most of these forts are situated amidst green valleys, with abundance of water and vast gardens of date palm trees. These forts originally served as the governing centres of local emirs and tribal chiefs.

Let us start with the Nizwa Fort, the present structure was was constructed in 1650s by Imam Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya'rubi, on the foundations of an older fort dating back to 12th century. The main part of the fort is a 30 meters high round bastion or tower. It is very strongly built to withstand the barrage of heaviest of the cannons of that time. Inside the tower, there is a labyrinth of narrow passages and secret defensive elements. It also houses a museum of art, craft and culture of Oman. It is one of the biggest tourist attractions of Oman.

Nizwa Fort. It also houses a museum of Omani art, craft and culture. (30.12.20143)
(22°55'59.81" N  57°31'48.67" E)

Nizwa Fort. View of the beautiful green valley from the top of the fort. (30.12.20143)

Nizwa Fort. Inside view of the huge circular bastion. (30.12.20143)

A plan of the Nizwa Fort. 

A gun in the fort. (30.12.20143)

Courtyard of Nizwa Fort. (30.12.20143)

Bahla is another wonderful fort of Oman, constructed in 13th and 14th century. It is enlisted on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. It underwent a massive restoration for for many years recently and is not fully open to public. Unfortunately we could not enter the fort. But if you ever visit Oman, visiting it is should be one of your top priorities.The surrounding valley is very beautiful and gives an excellent view from the fort. It is situated on the southern slopes of Jabal Al Akhdar mountains. 

Bahla Fort. (30.12.20143)
(22°57'52.64" N  57°18'02.71" E)

Bahla Fort. (30.12.20143)

Bahla Fort. (30.12.20143)

Unlike other forts, Jabrin Fort is located in a vast plain. It is also a big castle and in excellent condition. It was built in 1680s. We reached there after visiting hours, so could not enter it. The forts is surrounded by farmlands all around it. 
Jabrin Fort. (30.12.20143)
(22°54'54.57" N  57°14'56.64" E)

Jabrin Fort. (30.12.20143)

Nakhl Fort in my opinion is the most beautiful fort of Oman. Constructed on high rocks, it is a marvel of architecture. History of this fort goes to pre Islamic era, but the present structure was constructed in 17 century and was renovated in 1990s. Its setting is wonderful, with high mountains on one side and surrounded by a lush green valley, with a stream of water flowing close by. If you are in Oman and like historical buildings, then you should not miss visiting this fort at all. Many old weapons are also on display. 
Nakhl Fort. (31.12.2013)
(23°23'40.50" N  57°49'42.65" E)

Nakhl Fort. (31.12.2013)

Nakhl Fort. Bastions of the fort with the city in the background. (31.12.2013)

Highest part of the part with the hills in the background. (31.12.2013)

Nahkl Fort is constructed on a big rocks detached from the main chain of mountains. (31.12.2013)

Awabi is small fort, located in a sleepy small town of the same name. It is located beside a water course, guarding a passage to the mountains.

Awabi Fort. (31.12.2013)
(23°17'58.59" N  57°31'49.94" E )

Interior of the Awabi Fort. (31.12.2013)

Rustaq was once the capital of Oman. The fort which is perhaps the largest in Oman is a very old and constructed four centuries prior to the dawn of Islam. Rustaq city is also very beautiful, peaceful and neat and clean. It is a very big structure and is surrounded by huge wall to protect the citadel from a direct attack. The citadel is several storeys high and contain vast rooms for the royal family, the staff and store rooms for food and weapons. In its present shape it was constructed during the reign of Al Ya'ribah dynasty in the sixteenth century

Rustaq Fort. (31.12.2013.)
( 23°23'30.46" N  57°25'34.94" E)

Rustaq Fort. (31.12.2013.)

Rustaq Fort. (31.12.2013.)

Rustaq Fort. (31.12.2013.)

Rustaq Fort. (31.12.2013.)

Rustaq Fort. (31.12.2013.)

Beautiful city of Rustaq. (31.12.2013.)

We reached Al Hazm fort, just a few minutes before the sunset and the caretaker was about to leave, as the visiting hours had ended. But the caretaker showed a great courtesy and not only opened the doors of the fort but gave us guided tour as well. Its huge three centuries old wooden door with intricate patterns engraved on it, is a master piece of art. It has a magnificent gun , which the caretaker proudly told us was snatched from Portuguese in a battle and is one of only two of its kind in the world. Like all the forts of Oman, it has a secret water stream, which brings water from mountains from a source 80 kilometers away.It also contains graves of two Ibani Imams of Oman. It was constructed in 1711.  

Al Hazm Fort. (31.12.2013.)
(23°33'02.69" N  57°28'22.34" E)

Roof top of the Al Hazm Fort.(31.12.2013.)

Al Hazm Fort. Rustaq Fort. (31.12.2013.)

Ibri Fort is a big fort, with a residential complex for the ruler and a very big mosque integrated with the fort itself. Condition of this fort is also very good and is showing its original splendour.

Ibri Fort.  (02.01.2014)
(23°14'12.75" N  56°30'21.72" E)

Ibri Fort.  (02.01.2014)

Ibri Fort.  (02.01.2014)

Ibri Fort.  (02.01.2014)

Ibri Fort.  (02.01.2014)

Visiting Oman was a very pleasant experience. It is a very peaceful and neat and clean country. In the presence of a great network of roads and natural beauty all around, travelling around the country is a fun. It is not just forts, Oman is full of natural wonders, there are most beautiful beaches, lush green valleys and high mountains. I suggest that you must consider Oman if you are planning to have vacations in a foreign country.

Tariq Amir

July 21, 2014.
Doha – Qatar. 

View Forts in Oman in a larger map