Down near the Old Souk, the town’s pretty stone fort was built by the Portuguese in the seventeenth century as part of their efforts to control passing maritime trade. The fort was originally on the seafront, though the waters have since receded a considerable distance, leaving the structure high and dry.
A couple of large wooden dhows stand outside, while three smaller boats sit in the courtyard within – a battil, mashuwwah and zaruqah. The battil (the one closest to the entrance) is particularly attractive, sporting the pretty cowrie-shell decorations around the prow and rudder which are typical of Musandam. The boat’s bow and stern also display a rare extant example of the traditional “stitched” method of boat building (see Ayjah), with planks literally sewn together using coconut thread. Close by stand modern replicas of a traditional bait al qufl (“house of the lock”) and a barasti (palm thatch) summer house, ingeniously constructed using stone pillars with permeable walls fashioned out of palm branches.
In the centre of the courtyard stands the fort’s most unusual feature: a large and completely detached circular tower, intended to provide an additional refuge in case the outer walls were breached. Entrance is via a ramp on one side and steps on the other, with a hearth built into the exterior wall below. The interior is filled with wide-ranging and informative exhibits covering various aspects of Musandam’s geology, culture and history.
From the entrance, steps lead up to the walls and a walkway on which you can make a circuit of the fort and its various towers – a couple of which still have their mangrove-pole ladders set into the interior walls. The second tower around houses various colourful but rather unedifying displays on traditional Musandam culture featuring colourful rugs, crockery and some droll mannequins. There’s also an interesting re-creation of a traditional apothecary’s shop and a display of fine traditional silver jewellery including enormously chunky elbow rings, necklaces featuring characteristic pouches (“Qur’an boxes”) used to store texts from the holy book (worn as magic charms to ward off evil). A couple of these also incorporate the large silver Maria Theresa Thaler coins which were widely used throughout the Gulf and East Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and which were often incorporated into traditional Omani jewellery (and are still widely available in souvenir shops around the country to this day).
The tower diagonally opposite, on the breezy sea-facing side of the fort, houses the Wali’s Wing, with the usual old rugs and coffeepots alongside more unusual wali-related bric-a-brac including antique sewing and writing boxes, expired tins of boot polish and bottles of ink, and an old Philips radio.