Far and away the most appealing town in Sharqiya, SUR enjoys one of the eastern coast’s prettiest locations, with the old part of town sitting on what is almost a miniature island, surrounded by a tranquil lagoon and offering views of mingled water and land in every direction. Sur is also one of the most historic settlements in the south, formerly a bustling port and trading centre whose maritime traditions live on in the intriguing dhow-building yard, the only surviving one of its kind in Oman. Further reminders of Sur’s illustrious past are provided by the trio of forts and string of watchtowers which encircle the town and harbour.
Sur’s attractions are quite spread out. The small but lively town centre and souk – a colourful tangle of brightly illuminated shops and cafés – lies at the western end of the island, from where the breezy seafront corniche runs down the coast for 1km or so to reach the old harbour, home to Sur’s dhow-building yard and a trio of watchtowers, beyond which lies the pretty village of Ayjah.
The easternmost major settlement in Oman, Sur has always looked to the sea. Following the demise of Qalhat in 1508, the town developed as the region’s most important port, shipping goods to and from India and East Africa, and also established itself as the country’s most important ship-building centre (vestiges of which remain). A succession of reverses during the nineteenth century eroded the town’s fortunes, including the arrival of European steam-ships in the Indian Ocean, the British prohibition of slavery, the split with Zanzibar and the rise of the port of Muscat. Recent years have seen a modest revival in the town’s fortunes thanks to the opening of the massive OLNG natural gas plant just up the coast.