Despite its volatile location between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, sharing a border with war-torn Yemen, and sitting on a key oil shipping route that has been the site of several oil tanker attacks, the Sultanate of Oman is among the world’s safest and most fascinating destinations for travel.
Described as ‘the Switzerland of the Middle East’, Oman has long managed to remain neutral and enjoy relative peace and calm in a region mired in turmoil and conflict.
But the picturesque, quiet coastal country was not always the bastion of tranquility that it is today. Lying at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, Oman suffered frequent invasions and colonisation due to its strategic location on vital trade routes. But it also became a colonial power itself, vying with the Portuguese and British Empires for power and trade in the Gulf and Indian Ocean.
Much of Oman’s cultural heritage today is defined by its turbulent past. The country is home to nearly 1,000 forts, castles and watchtowers that stand as monuments to its rich history. Wherever you go in Oman, near the beach, in the mountains, or deep within its desert, you will certainly come across one of these formidable structures.A two-hour drive away from the capital Muscat lies one of Oman’s oldest and largest fortresses, Nizwa Fort, which stood as a defensive stronghold against raiding forces. It is located in the ancient oasis city of Nizwa, the former capital of Oman in the 6th and 7th centuries AD, and a strategic trade route.
Nizwa Fort combines a castle and a fort and was the administrative seat of power for various Imams and Walis who ruled the Imamate of Oman. The fort was built in the mid 17th century by Imam Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya’rubi, who defeated the last of the Portuguese occupiers and expelled them from Oman. The structure was erected over the ruins of an older fort which dates back to the 12th century.
The fort’s construction took 12 years to complete. It boasts ancient Omani architecture and is uniquely marked by a circular shape. Surrounded by tremendous plantations of green date palms, the national monument is designed over two levels.
With an outer diameter of nearly 45 metres, it possesses the largest fort tower in the Sultanate and, possibly, the entire Arabian Peninsula. The tower constitutes the main component of the fort, reinforced with sand and gravel. Its seven wells, storage facilities and many cells enabled its defenders to withstand long sieges.
The castle also hosts a museum which displays the nation’s traditions and how Omanis lived in ancient times. From the top of the fort, you can catch breathtaking, panoramic views of the oasis and Hajar mountains.Although not recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO like Oman’s Bahla Fort, for instance, Nizwa Fort is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. Outside the fort lies the bustling Nizwa souq, one of the oldest marketplaces in Oman.
With deep connection to the country’s Islamic roots, the city of Nizwa itself is steeped in history and offers visitors a glimpse of Oman’s history. Known as a spiritual capital of Oman, Nizwa was once a centre of trade, religion, education and art, desribed by Muslim explorer Ibn Battuta as ‘a city at the foot of a mountain, enveloped by orchards and streams, and with fine bazaars and splendid clean mosques.’