Strung out along Buraimi-Nizwa highway (Highway 21) more or less in the middle of nowhere, IBRI sees few foreign visitors, although it boasts a surprisingly absorbing cluster of traditional sights including a fine fort, interesting souk and one of the region’s most memorable walled mudbrick villages at nearby As Suleif. The town was formerly a stronghold of Ibadhi conservatism, though modern Ibri derives its importance from its proximity to Fahud, where Oman’s first oil was discovered in 1964.
The main sight in town is the large and carefully restored fort. Inside, the spacious gravel courtyard is surrounded by an interesting jumble of buildings and towers. To the right of the entrance stands the main defensive tower, an impressive three-storey structure; to the left, the remains of a mudbrick mosque with a deep well built into the platform alongside; and, on the far side of the courtyard, a residential building. Head left across the courtyard, through a second gateway, to reach a subsidiary courtyard, where steps lead up to a sizeable mosque, one of the largest in any Omani fort and still in use today, although kitted out with eyesore modern glass windows and metal pillars. This is actually only half the fort; the rest, beyond the mosque, remains closed to the public.
The area around the fort is significantly less manicured, but ultimately much more memorable, with dozens of imposing mudbrick houses (and a particularly fine ruined mosque opposite the fort) in various states of ruin, dotted here and there with little patches of dead oasis with decapitated palm trees. It’s a perfect picture of the physical passing of old Oman – intensely atmospheric, and rather sad. Pressed up hard against the west wall of the fort is the town’s attractive old souk, including some neat little arcaded sections.
On the southern edge of town lies Ibri’s most absorbing attraction, the remarkable walled village of As Suleif, a huge clump of collapsing mudbrick buildings which crown a small hill next to the main Nizwa highway. Like so many settlements in Oman, the old mudbrick village was abandoned a couple of decades ago in favour of the modern concrete villa development which now stands beside it, and the original settlement is now slowly crumbling into picturesque ruin – see it now before it collapses completely.
The entire village is impressively fortified, with high walls at the front and sides, and a string of watchtowers stuck like candles into the massive rock outcrop at the back. Inside is an incredibly labyrinthine, kasbah-like tangle of old roofless houses and other structures including a mosque, jail, various wells, majlis, food stores, a room for pressing dates and a “hanging tower” at the summit of the rock where unfortunates were taken to be executed. The remains of various inscriptions moulded onto arches or inscribed on rocks can also be seen. The resident guardian will meet you at the entrance and show you around. There’s no admission price, although a couple of rials should suffice.