For ts and Castles of Oman

Published with the Support and Encouragement of:

For ts and Castles of Oman
With Photography by Jaap Croese

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Sultan of Oman.

by HE Mohammed Al Tobi Undersecretary, Ministry of Tourism

The forts and castles of Oman are at the heart of our heritage as they exemplify the nobility and courage of the Omani people in defending this country over many centuries. The advent of a book that for the first time provides comprehensive coverage of all Oman’s major strongholds is therefore an important documentary milestone. When you read Strongholds of Heritage, you will sense that it is an inspired work that speaks for all of us who have come to know and love the truly superb defensive architecture of the Sultanate. Each fort or castle has its own history and personality and, with repeated visits, becomes familiar, like the houses in our lives. Written with intimate knowledge of the strongholds and of the country and its heritage, this work is more than a book; it is an important contribution to the growing cultural repertoire of the nation in literature on significant Omani themes. The forts and castles of Oman are dear to my heart, because, like others of my gener-

ation, I grew up in the exciting period when many of these venerable strongholds were being restored by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture. I had the good fortune in the past to hold the position of Director of Domestic Tourism – first in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and later in the Ministry of Tourism – and thus to play a direct role in the development of these magnificent buildings for the public.

It is the aim of the Ministry of Tourism to reinforce the natural pride that Omanis have in their heritage and to share the nation’s natural and cultural treasures with visitors from abroad. At the same time, we are acting on our vested responsibility to provide educational and economic opportunities to Omani citizens through the development of historic sites, while carefully preserving the precious evidence of the past. We are tremendously pleased to support this beautiful book which has indeed the same goals. I wish to congratulate the author, Dr Patricia Groves, on her wonderful achievement in creating this book, and the photographer, Jaap Croese, for illustrating it so beautifully. And I especially want to thank all the staff in the Directorate of Historical Sites Development for assisting in the research, as well as the Ministry of Tourism staff at our many strongholds throughout the Sultanate. Mohammed Al Tobi

Published by Motivate Publishing Dubai: PO Box 2331, Dubai, UAE Tel: (+971 4) 282 4060, fax: (+9714) 282 7898 e-mail: Office 508, Building No 8, Dubai Media City, Dubai, UAE Tel: (+971 4) 390 3550, fax: (+971 4) 390 4845 Abu Dhabi: PO Box 43072, Abu Dhabi, UAE Tel: (+971 2) 677 2005, fax: (+971 2) 677 0124 London: Acre House, 11/15 William Road, London NW1 3ER e-mail: Directors: Obaid Humaid Al Tayer and Ian Fairservice Editing and design by: David Steele Editors: Therese Theron, Simona Cassano, Moushumi Nandy Senior Designer: Cithadel Francisco; Designer: Charlie Banalo General Manager Books: Jonathan Griffiths Publishing Coordinator: Zelda Pinto © Dr Patricia Groves and Jaap Croese and Motivate Publishing, 2010

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form (including photocopying or storing in any medium by electronic means) without the written permission of the copyright holders. Application for the copyright holders’ written permission to reproduce any part of this publication should be addressed to the publishers. In accordance with the International Copyright Act 1956 and the UAE Federal Law No. (7) of 2002, Concerning Copyrights and Neighboring Rights, any personacting in contravention of this will be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. ISBN: 978 1 86063 269 3 British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Printed by Emirates Printing Press, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

This book is dedicated to all who support and maintain the forts and castles of Oman, whether they be Ministry officials or village workers, and to all who come to enjoy these splendid monuments, from schoolchildren to local residents – whether Omani or expatriate – and to each new visitor from afar.

Before it begins, a book is an idea and an aspiration. The idea for this book came from my first encounter with Jabreen Castle several years ago. While wandering though the chambers of the castle, I came upon the famous Hall of the Sun and the Moon. The castle guide had mentioned that the fourteen clerestory windows of this room were designed to allow moonlight to stream in at night and to diminish the blaze of the sun during the day. The idea of an ancient castle illuminated purely by nature’s bounty inspired me to write The Garden of the Sun and the Moon, a series of poetic reflections on Oman. This was a work that would underlie the feature articles on the heritage and culture of Oman that I wrote during the following decade, which in turn led to this book. In the meantime, Jaap Croese, a talented Dutch photographer and long-time resident of Oman, traversed the country from top to bottom, from north to south and from east to west, exploring and photographing mountains, wadis, plains, oases, desert, towns and cities, shores and islands. This culminated in two highly successful photographic books, Oman – A Pictorial Tour and Oman – A Pictorial Souvenir, published by Motivate in 2006. As Jaap had been thinking of creating a photographic book on the forts and castles of Oman, I invited him to do the photography for Strongholds of Heritage – with truly spectacular results. As much as it is about the forts and castles, this book is about Oman and its mystique, the inspirational dream it gives to visitors and how that dream can be expressed in words and images. As strongholds of heritage, the forts and castles of Oman are emblematic of a proud nation with a tumultuous history in which courage and loyalty prevailed. The advanced nation we know today was made possible in part by the vigilance of these ancient bastions as guardians of the land and its shores. Oman’s distinguished collection of forts and castles is a resource available not only to the nation, but also to the broader world. The aim of this book is to assist in that endeavour – to share this remarkable heritage. Patricia Groves Muscat, September 2010

In the receding sun of late afternoon, the majestic Hall of the Sun and the Moon at Jabreen Castle shimmers with golden light.

In addition to providing generous sponsorship, the Ministry of Tourism played a vital role in the creation of Strongholds of Heritage. We wish to thank His Excellency, Mohammed Al Tobi, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism for his leadership in this venture; and to recognize and express our appreciation to Mr Abdullah bin Salim Al Thahli, Director of Historical Sites Development and to Mr Saif bin Khamis Al Rawahi, Head of Exhibition and Archive Development for Historical Sites Development, for their assistance to the author in her research and in the organization of visits to the forts and castles. Special thanks go to Marcia M Dorr, Advisor in Historical Sites Development, for her invaluable help with the research for this book. We are also grateful to the staff in the Ministry of Tourism’s numerous forts and castles for their role in facilitating the research and photography in situ. They were exceptionally hospitable and helpful. The late HE Annelies Boogaerdt, former Ambassador of the Netherlands to Oman, awarded the Order of Oman First Class in 2008, was the prime catalyst in the creation of this book. Strongly committed to supporting the culture and heritage of Oman, HE Annelies commissioned the author to write two booklets, Country Castles of Oman and Strongholds of Heritage as gifts from the Netherlands to the Sultanate. Five thousand copies of each booklet were distributed to the forts and castles for visitors to take away words and images encapsulating the experience. According to the concept of Ambassador Annelies, the booklets were designed as a small souvenir that could be easily slipped into a pocket or sent by post to be shared with friends; and these little booklets have gone around the world. As envisaged by HE Annelies Boogaerdt, the two booklets spawned this book. The editorial and design team at Motivate Publishing did a superb job and were a pleasure to work with. Special thanks go to the final editor, Therese Theron, for her excellent work, as well as to the original editor, David Steele, for his dedication to the project and for his fine work in designing the layout of the book. The author is grateful to the SAF Museum for valuable guidance and the right to photograph exhibits, as well as to Mr Ahmed Al Mukaini, former Secretary of the Historical Association of Oman, and translator of the two booklets, who provided advice and clarification of Omani terms for the book. We are grateful to Omran, the leading tourism-related investment, development and management company in the Sultanate of Oman, for its role in the sponsorship of this book. Working in harmony with Oman’s environment and natural resources, Omran aims to create memorable destinations and experiences that deliver long-term benefits to local communities and the national economy. Today, it has more than 30 projects under development or in operation, including some of Oman’s most high-profile developments – a portfolio of close to RO 4 billion. The company is playing an important role in Oman’s longterm vision for its tourism sector. We were delighted to have Omran as the sponsor for the launch of this book in Muscat, and we are pleased that Omran has commissioned its own special edition of Strongholds of Heritage. It must be said that working on this book has been nothing short of pure pleasure and our sincere and heartfelt thanks go to all those who contributed, whether in great or small ways.

In all four seasons, the well-kept garden in front of Nakhal Fort is splashed with the bright colours of bougainvillea.

Next page: As night falls on Mirani Fort, the ancient structure is bathed in golden light. This view from beside Al Alam Palace includes the minaret of Al Khor Mosque.

Foreword 7 Dedication 9 Preface 11 Acknowledgements 13 Map 19 Introduction 20 PART ONE Ancient Sentinels of the Coast Introduction 28 Chapter I Khasab Castle, Sentry of the Strait 32 Chapter II The Great White Fort of Sohar 38 Chapter III As Suwayq, the Market-Town Castle 44 Chapter IV Barka Castle and the Broad Horizon 50 Chapter V The Twin Forts of Muscat – Al Mirani and Al Jalali 56 • Land and Sea 62 Chapter VI The Guardian of Mutrah Harbour 64 Chapter VII Qurayyat Castle and the Old Neem Tree 68 Chapter VIII Castles of Sur – Sunaysilah and Bilad Sur 74 Chapter IX Ras Al Hadd, Bastion of the East 78 • Land of Frankincense 82 Chapter X Taqah Castle and its Treasures 84 Chapter XI Mirbat Castle and its Safe Harbour 88 • Dhofari Style 91 Chapter XII Sadah Castle, a Crucial Outpost 92

PART TWO Guardians of the Interior Lands Introduction 96 Chapter XIII Bait Al Falaj, a Palatial Stronghold 100 Chapter XIV Castles at the Crossroads – Al Khandaq and Al Hillah 106 Chapter XV Ibri’s Ancient Castle and its Mosque 112 Chapter XVI Jaalan Bani Bu Hasan and the Oases 116 Chapter XVII Al Mintarib Castle on the Fringes of the Sands 120 Chapter XVIII Ar Rustaq Fort, Bastion of an Ancient Capital 124 • Ancient Antecedents 129 Chapter XIX Nakhal Fort, Quintessentially Omani 130 Chapter XX The Princely Castle at Al Hazm 136 Chapter XXI An Nu’man, an Elegant Country Castle 142 Chapter XXII The Great Citadel of Nizwa 146 Chapter XXIII Bayt Ar Ridaydah and the Pool of Bananas 152 Chapter XXIV The World Heritage Fortress at Bahla 158 Chapter XXV Jabreen Castle, the Jewel in the Crown 164 • Treasures of Trade 172 Chapter XXVI An Enchanted Castle 174 Notes 178 Bibliography 180 Glossary of Arabic Terms 182 Glossary of Architectural and Related Terms 184 Index 186

pReviOus page: Lush date palms and the rhythmic pattern of crenellations frame this panoramic view of Khasab Bay in the far north of Oman. Stationed on sandy shores at the entrance to a long valley, this seventeenth century castle played an important strategic role in guarding the Strait of Hormuz. Right: Forming an umbrella-like canopy, a large date palm shades the interior courtyard on the ground floor at Taqah Castle. This is one of several protected outdoor areas that add to the charm of this small castle. OppOsite page: The location of each of the twenty-eight forts and castles featured in the book is indicated on this map. The ‘Enchanted Castle’ described in Chapter XXVI is not shown, as it is privately owned and in a delicate condition. Four areas which have a dense concentration of forts and castles have been enlarged for the convenience of the reader. These are, from top to bottom, monuments in or near: Muscat, Rustaq, Nizwa and Sur.

Al Mirani Fort Mutrah Fort Bait Al Falaj Muscat Al Jalali Fort

(Sultanate of Oman)



(Sultanate of Oman)



Qurayyat Castle
Al Khandaq Al Hillah Al Buraymi Sohar As Suwayq An Nu’man

As Suwayq Castle An Nu’man Castle Al Hazm Castle Ar Rustaq Ar Rustaq Fort

Barka Castle


Al Hazm

Barka Mutrah Bait Al Falaj Nakhal

Al Mirani Muscat Al Jalali Qurayyat Sunaysilah Sur Bilad Sur Ras Al Had Al Mintarib

Ar Rustaq Bahla Jabreen Nizwa

Bait Ar Ridaydah

Nakhal Fort


Jaalan Bani Bu Hasan


Bahla Fort Jabreen Castle Nizwa Nizwa Fort

Bait Ar Ridaydah



Sunaysilah Castle Bilad Sur Castle Al Mintarib Castle


Ras Al Had Castle






showing the Forts and Castles featured in Strongholds of Heritage

Map of the Sultanate of Oman

• location of cities

Jaalan Bani Bu Hasan Castle
0 KILOMETRES 50 100 km

(Al Buraimi, Muscat, Ar Rustaq, Nizwa, Sur and Salalah)


This map is not an authority on international boundaries.

The history of humankind is punctuated with conflict. Epochs of peace alternate with periods of war. Strong civilizations give rise to dreams of conquest and dominion over others. Following the Persians and Alexander the Great, the most successful conquerors on a world scale were the Romans. At the height of the Roman Empire, in the second century AD, conquered territories stretched thousands of miles outwards from the Mediterranean basin – north from Rome to the far Atlantic coast of Britain, west through Europe to the Black Sea; and, from there, south to the Red Sea and eastward across North Africa to the North Atlantic coast. Even the mightiest of empires had to be defended and, today, the vestiges of the defensive architecture of the Roman Era are among the oldest UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites from the historical era. The remains of the ramparts, walls and ditches, watchtowers, forts and settlements of that vast realm constitute a transnational World Heritage property named ‘Frontiers of the Roman Empire’. The Roman Dominion gave way to the Byzantine, and the Byzantine to the Islamic Caliphates. It was during the Islamic period, beginning in the seventh century, that distinctive Arabian styles of defensive architecture evolved with rich influences from beyond the Gulf. By the early sixteenth century, European powers began to enter the region. The Portuguese were the most invasive and, in order to gain a strategic foothold, built military strongholds along the coasts of the Gulf, Africa and India. The golden era of the Sultanate’s martial architecture came a century later with the advent of empire – Oman’s far-flung Indian Ocean trading dominion that reached a zenith in the seventeenth century and again in the mid-nineteenth century. Today, Oman’s forts, castles and watchtowers project their bold architectural outlines across the land in solid reminiscence of times past. Numbering in the hundreds, and found throughout the Sultanate, they are a defining feature of the landscape. Although sometimes viewed together as a national defensive system, the forts, castles and watchtowers of Oman are in fact components of separate protective networks, defined over time by geography and by economic and political interests. These widespread defensive systems once protected the nation’s maritime and overland trade, safeguarding the riches of the sea and the harvest of the land. The coasts were guarded by forts and castles concentrated at settlements along the northern, eastern and southern shores, some working in concert with strongholds further inland. In an arc that extends from Sumail in the east to Al Buraymi in the west, a series of bastions at the foot of the mountains guarded the entrances to the interior passages. In the valleys and beyond the mountains, at every major settlement in the interior, stands a fort or castle. Along the routes between strongholds are extraordinary watchtowers that cast a vigilant eye over water sources,

abOve: At Rustaq Fort, two cannon positioned to fire sit in historically accurate reproductions of their original carriages. Right: Mounted by riders from the Manah Horse Society, ten chestnut royal Arabian horses are flanked by two equally beautiful grey Arabians standing in formation in front of His Majesty’s castle, Husn Ash’ Shumookh. pReviOus spRead: this beautiful castle, Husn Ash’ Shumookh is Oman’s newest. Completed at the start of the new millennium, the castle was built by HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said and serves as a traditional fortified palace.

agricultural areas and the arteries of trade. Positioned prominently in the landscape, the fortress had a powerful strategic and symbolic function as a deterrent for the enemy and in the local exercise of dominance. The political eloquence of the fortress was expressed by its elevated position, by its massive structure and by its commanding architectural countenance. The symbolic might of the stronghold implied minimal decorative elements on the exterior. It was plain, bold, forbidding. And it marked its territory in no uncertain terms. Each fort or castle holds a unique individual history and together they are key to the story of Oman from ancient times until the present day. The oldest, Bahla Fort, is understood to have predated Islam, while the most recent, Husn Ash’ Shumookh, was inaugurated by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said in the year 2000. Appropriately, Ash’ Shumookh refers to a sentiment akin to pride, but elevated above it. While their defining purpose was military, Oman’s strongholds served also as focal points for political endeavour, social interaction and community events. In peaceful times, as busy centres for education, justice and administration, forts were vital societal institutions. They often contained military barracks and usually had a symbiotic relationship with nearby mosques and souqs. A castle (husn), strictly speaking, is a fortified residence, a place for royalty or aristocracy to live in comfort and safety. In contrast, a fort (qa’lah) is a military bastion occupied by garrisons, standing guard over strategic routes and protecting precious resources. Certain forts, such as Bait Al Falaj, have also served as occasional or seasonal royal residences, but castles would be used as forts only in cases of emergency, as in war. The terms ‘fort’ and ‘castle’ tend to be used interchangeably in ordinary parlance and it

should be noted that through the centuries the names of some monuments changed, perhaps depending on how the fort or castle was used or on the sentiment of the time. And certain strongholds that were essentially forts, such as those at Ras Al Hadd and Khasab, are officially called castles, probably for reasons of traditional usage. Among the characteristic features of Oman’s military architecture are crenellations, towers and carved wooden doors. While the original purpose of crenellations was undoubtedly operational, today this defensive feature is seen as a distinctive and iconic architectural


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