Some 40km west of Nizwa, the small town of BAHLA is famous for its gigantic fort and its distinctive earthenware pottery – and it also has a certain reputation as the favoured haunt of mischievous jinns and other supernatural phenomena – a kind of Omani Glastonbury. Unfortunately the town’s fort, one of the most splendid in Oman, is closed indefinitely for repairs, although you can still enjoy fine views of the exterior, while the atmospheric old town and city walls are also worth a look, as is the engaging little souk.
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There’s nothing subtle about Bahla’s fort. One of the biggest in Oman, its immense walls and irregular skyline of assorted towers, bastions and crenellations loom massively above the modest modern town, looking like some kind of gigantic medieval factory. As with many of Oman’s forts, Bahla is believed to have been established in pre-Islamic times, though the present structure dates back to the days of the Banu Nebhan, the dominant tribe in the area between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, although the fort was largely rebuilt during the seventeenth century. During the twentieth century the fort fell into an advanced state of disrepair and was in danger of collapsing entirely until, in 1987, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and closed for the huge renovation works which continue to this day, and with no scheduled end yet in sight. If you want to have a (virtual) glimpse inside the fort, check out the 360-degree panophotographs at wwww.world-heritage-tour.org/middle-east/oman/bahla.
While you’re here, it’s also worth exploring the area running down to the wadi below the fort on the western side of town. Start at the mosque sitting directly in front of the fort on top of a large raised terrace – a plain, mudbrick box. The mosque’s terrace offers probably the best view of the fort in town, as well as a bird’s-eye view over the extensive remains of old Bahla, a dense cluster of mudbrick houses in various states of disrepair, bounded by a couple of old gateways and the remains of old defensive walls and towers. Some of the buildings are surprisingly grand, including a number of very fine, but very decayed, three-storey houses, many of which retain their solid original wooden doors (or colourful modern metal replacements). The houses are largely uninhabited now and, as with so many similar places throughout Oman, it’s difficult to imagine the ruins surviving for much longer.
Continuing away from the fort brings you to even more considerable remains of Bahla’s city walls, which stretch for some 12km around the fort, town and surrounding date plantations. The best-preserved section is down along the wadi. Walk down along the main road towards Jabrin until you reach the bridge over the wadi, look left, and you’ll see an impressive line of fortifications stretching away in the distance, well over 5m high in places. There’s also another stretch of walls on your right as you drive into town from Nizwa, shortly before you reach the fort.