“Oman is a country that seemed to escape the notice of all but the most intrepid of travellers until just a few years ago.” Unknown
This is the third and final instalment of our trip to Oman, I hope you have enjoyed the first two posts (links at the bottom of this post) giving a little insight into our travels across the border, if not you should probably just skip this post but if you have, then read on! After a night of deep sleep induced by lots of exercise and mountain air, I dragged my aching legs to breakfast and a plan was formed for our last day in Oman before the long road home, a visit to the nearby town of Nizwa (نزوى) to visit the ancient fort and souk.
Nizwa is an old Omani town that is going through a period of modernisation (even saw a Pizza Hut, not one coffee chain to be seen though) with a colourful history and dominated by an imposing and massive circular fort, its principal form of defence in a bygone era.
Sitting in the shadows of the fort is Nizwa souq and like many souqs these days, it’s a modern purpose-built take on the traditional ancient market. The buildings may be present-day but the wares for sale are not and as well as dates there was an abundance of traditional ceramic pots and trinkets, silver jewellery, textiles, handicrafts, books, coffee pots, guns (muskets) and ‘khunjars‘ (traditional curved knives worn by men as part of their local dress) or as the other half calls it in his own special way “more sh*t we don’t need!“, luckily for me everywhere accepted UAE dirhams alongside Omani rials.
On Friday’s (it was Sunday when we were there) there is a weekly live auction where locals come to sell their livestock (goats and cows mainly) to the highest bidder.
Nizwa is the largest city in the Ad Dakhiliyah Region and one of the oldest in Oman, it was the country’s old capital before Muscat back in the 6th and 7th century. It is an important centre for date growing and a well-known market place, surrounded on all sides by mountains.
Nizwa Fort dates back to 1668 AD as stands as one of the Sultanate’s finest historical edifices (large imposing building to you and me, but edifice was too great a word to omit) built by Imam Sultan bin Saif al Yaarubi to protect trade routes and the nearby oasis. The fort is the biggest in the region and was restored by the Omani government in 1990.
The huge earth-filled circular structure sits at an imposing 35 metres high and has a diameter of 46 metres. Once inside the fort opens into a maze of rooms, high-ceilinged halls, multiple doorways, narrow corridors and staircases and raised platforms. The large platform at the top of the fort is ascended via a narrow, winding staircase now lit by individual storm lanterns.
Each doorway have deep pitfalls (now covered with glass for tourists safety, lucky) at several levels throughout the dark zig-zag staircase that were used as part of the defensive system to halt would be assailants. Those who did manage not to fall in the deep gaping pits (believe me they are deep) and navigate their way up the staircase would have had boiling palm oil or date syrup poured on them from slots in the roof (no mercy in this country), making the fort virtually impenetrable to potential enemies.
From the top of the ramparts you get a fantastic view of Nizwa mosque with its tall minaret and an amazing perspective across the town, the date palm plantations and the mountains beyond.
Military fortifications included British built canons and four still remain from then original twenty-four that once circled the platform. These canons served as the fort’s main firepower providing 360-degree defense of the surrounding countryside making it virtually impossible for a surprise attack and two more still stand guard outside the main entrance.
The fort is a constant reminder of the town’s importance in Oman’s turbulent history and the feat of the engineering of that era, these days it’s a very busy tourist attraction.
Nizwa is well-known in Oman for its doors some of which are 1,000 years old and classed as objects of art and the whole town is a showcase of Ibadi architecture.
With tourist attractions complete we ducked out of the penetrating midday sun and settled down for refreshments in a little cafe by the souk but I swerved a traditional ‘Kahwa‘, an Omani coffee flavoured with roasted cardamom and rosewater, opting instead for my usual latte (simple girl with a two-day latte withdrawal), the others took the more traditional route ordering the refreshing arabic favourite of lemon and mint.
Oman is a land of varied terrain and very friendly people, a local man even drove us to a location when we were lost, going in completely the opposite direction from where we stopped to ask him for directions. Known as the ‘land of 1,000 forts‘ we certainly enjoyed our stroll around this Omani stronghold in Nizwa and it was an interesting contrast to the previous days mountain and village landscapes (and a well needed rest day for the gluteus maximus and quads).
I have to admit on first impressions that I wasn’t overly impressed with the interior region, but the outstanding scenery, panoramic vistas, cultural attractions and clean mountain air redeemed it for me after I thought it couldn’t possibly live up to my two previous experiences of the Sultanate, the opulence of the Muscat hotels and the beauty of Musandam Peninsula (known as the ‘Norway of Arabia’). If you fancy getting back to nature, taking in some traditional culture, breath-taking scenery and experience some Omani hospitality, I can thoroughly recommend the Western Hajar mountain region.
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2014. All rights reserved.