There are more than 500 forts and watchtowers in Oman and there is at least one visible on the coastal horizon anywhere you look. Their Arabic architecture is beautiful in its simplicity and varies according to the time in which each was constructed. They were built to protect the coast from invaders and were often used as seats of power and administration. Many have been restored as records of the past while others have been left in their original state.
Rustaq Fort is the oldest and tallest and is famed for its towers. It is surrounded on all sides by date palm groves which appear lush in contrast with the desert beyond.
Nakhl Fort is more than 350 years old and has been restored with traditional materials, furnishings and household goods and it’s as if the inhabitants have just stepped out for a moment. The small dark rooms provide welcome relief from the searing heat outside.
The fort at Bahla is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been undergoing restoration for more than a quarter of a century. Mystery surrounds the reconstruction though, as each time a section is completed it falls down again and experts have been unable to find a reason. The area has been a centre for black magic for centuries and local legend says that the spirit of a man stoned to death for wizardry in the seventh century wanders at night destroying what has just been built.
Nizwa fort is the largest of all and was built as a stronghold of defence. If attacking forces were able to get past the pits of poisonous snakes they were sure to be foiled by boiling date syrup poured from holes in the lintels above the doors. At a height of 45 metres the tower affords spectacular views of the city, the mountains and the desert. Inside there is a museum which features displays of traditional Omani clothing, jewellery and everyday artefacts, and photographic exhibitions of Omani crafts including the last indigo dyer and his workshop.
Today it’s the Ministry of Tourism that keeps watch over these ancient buildings, preserving them for all to experience.