Nizwa and Around
The city of Nizwa lies on a plain surrounded by palms, overlooked by the craggy peaks of the Hajar mountains. The city was once the capital of Oman and has a rich heritage, particularly in regards to Islamic history, which led to the accolade of Capital of Islamic Culture in 2013. The city and surrounding area has much to offer, including impressive forts, historic villages and a vibrant souk.
Nizwa was the capital of Oman during the 6th and 7th centuries, however its famous fort was not constructed until the 17th century, built by Imam Sultan Bin Saif Al Y`aribi, who was also the same ruler to free Oman from Portuguese occupation. In the 1950s, the fort was badly damaged by British forces during the Jabal Akhdar War (a conflict between the Sultan and the country’s mountain tribes, with British forces coming to the aid of the Sultan). However, it has since been extensively repaired and renovated, and is now one of the most historically interesting sites in the country.
The Nizwa Souk sits at the base of the fort. This winding labyrinth is brimming with shops and stalls selling everything from herbs and spices to trinkets and silver. However, it is on Fridays that the market is at its most lively. Local tribesmen journey down from the mountains and up from the desert to buy and sell livestock including goats, cattle and camels, with auctions taking place outside the entrance to the souk. Whilst the market does draw lots of tourists, this is still very much an authentic part of Omani culture.
There are also a number of other forts and castles to explore in the area. Jabrin Castle was built in 1675, and was once a centre of learning for Islamic Law as well as medicine and astrology. It is still possible to admire the intricate decorations in some of the rooms, including colourfully painted ceilings. The town of Bahla, with its dramatic battlements, ancient souk and fort, is steeped in local folklore. Many residents here have warily recounted stories of encounters with the jinn; supernatural spirits from Arabic mythology which are believed to be able to possess humans. The town is also renowned for its pottery, and it is possible to visit workshops and potteries as well as the fort.
In the foothills surrounding Nizwa there are a number of old villages, some of which are still occupied, whilst others lie abandoned. It is well worth spending some time to explore a few of these villages, such as Al Hamra, which has traditional mudhouses and falaj irrigation systems.