Bahla Fort

I recently drove from my home in Dubai to Muscat, the capital of Oman. Driving together with a friend, we headed towards the oasis town of Al Ain, crossed the border and headed through the desert interior. Cruising along at 90mph, we made good speed towards our destination, with less than 5 hours total driving time. The biggest delay was a crossing at the border that took a mere 20 minutes. The biggest hazard on the road to Muscat besides the local drivers are camels, which lumber across the highway oblivious to the danger of oncoming vehicles — we once had to screech to a halt. The primary goal of driving through the desert, not along the coast, was to see the desert fort of Bahla, famous for being home to the largest fort in Oman’s interior, and situated 200km from Muscat.

Readers may have already read my post on Emirati castle architecture, showing castles that I visited in the UAE interior and in Oman. Most of those castles were built in the last 150 years. Bahla Fort is impressive not just for its size, but for its history — it was first built in 13th century, and by the mid-1600s and was a center of resistance in “Oman Proper” to Ottoman, Portugese, and Iranian imperial interests that controlled and fought for control of the coast.


Approaching the castle from the desert highway.
The fort was abandoned during the age of Oman’s Empire, when the Sultan’s power stretched from modern day Pakistan to Tanzania. Meanwhile, the fort slowly collapsed and its mud bricks melted away, and fort was not restored or conserved before 1987, when it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, when it was included in the List of World Heritage Sites in danger. Restoration works began in the 1990s, and after millions of dollars spent to reconstruct the fort’s walls, the site was removed from the list of endangered sites in 2004.


A panorama view of the fort from a nearby hill.

The fort is surrounded by a wall that is a total of 12km in length. You can see a great interactive panorama view of the walls and the city here, from the top of the hill where I took the above and below.


The walls surrounding the fort.

It may seem peculiar that the fort shown above could “melt” away — but the horn of the Arabian peninsula sees heavy rains in the winter months from December to February, and the forts build of mud bricks slowly break down. One tower I saw close to the Oman coast shows how vulnerable these castles are to the environment if not protected. You can see a restored, maintained Burj tower in my previous post here.


A “melted” tower near the coast.

I’ll post more shortly on Muscat and the castles along the Oman Coast.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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9 Responses to Bahla Fort

  1. Shannon says:

    Cool pics, looking forward to seeing more!

  2. Alfred Russel Wallace says:

    Fascinating. What is the source of water for Bahla? Is that a river nearby, or ‘just’ an oasis? There must have been a reliable year-round water source for such an investment…

  3. Curzon says:

    ARW: The string of mountains that run parallel to the Oman coast from the northern Emirates (UAE) to the Indian Ocean are locally called the “Green Mountains.” There’s nothing green about them — but enough water flows off them to support small settlements.

  4. Rootless says:

    Jebel Akhdar (green mountains) has plenty of greenery if you know where to look. You will find it in amazing mountain villages with terraces like Misfat Al Abriyeen near Hamra or Al Ain literally hanging spectacularly in terraces off the amazing Saiq plateau. As well as being wonderful places to visit as a tourist, they provide produce for all of Oman, notably pomegranates in September, rose leaves (for rose water) in the Spring, dates twice a year plus lots of other unexpected fecundity.

    On that same route you mention there is also the very impressive Jibreen castle, just off the main road before you get to Bahla – impressive mainly for the well preserved interiors including 3 or 4 century old painted ceilings and intricate passageways and water management systems. It is not as monumentally huge as Bahla fort but it does have commanding views of the surrounding valleys.

    I find the walls and fortifications in Bahla, especially along the wadi down to the right before you enter town from the Ibri direction, more impressive and distinctive even than the fort which has been closed for reconstruction for a long time. And Bahla is the city of wizards – still attracting people who seek not exactly halal traditional solutions to various problems..

    There is also the massive tower of Nizwa fort planted robustly in the centre of that atmospheric former capital of the Oman interior.

  5. Joe Ormond says:

    They are green because they contain serpentine and diabase and are the most famous example of oceanic crust on the earth surface. The Semail Ophiolites

  6. Brent says:

    Curzon,

    Thanks for continuing your travel postings. Great pics!

    Brent

  7. Zachary says:

    Curzon,

    Great post! I forgot how much I enjoyed this blog, keep us the great work!

  8. Pingback: ComingAnarchy.com » Everyone’s Friend: Oman in the Spotlight

  9. Shlok says:

    That was one of my favorite drives in life.