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.