Nizwa Fort

A Visit to Nizwa Fort

A few days ago I was able to visit Nizwa Fort, which is located in the center of the older area of the city.  Around the fort is the Nizwa souq, which is known for its Friday morning goat and cattle market.  You can also buy things such as luban (frankincense), clothes, traditional pottery and crafts, and a variety of dates and honey that are locally produced at the souq. 

View of the minaret and dome of the Nizwa Fort Mosque.

 There’s also al-Qala’a Mosque (the mosque next to the fort that was probably the largest mosque in Nizwa until the Sultan Qaboos mosque opened its doors in 2015).

The Tower

Nizwa fort was built in the 1600s by Imam Sultan bin Saif al-Ya’rubi of the Ya’rubi dynasty.  This was the same dynasty that built Jibreen castle.  The fort was the main area of administration in Nizwa during that era. One of the first things you might notice when walking around the outside of the fort is the large circular tower.  This tower is about 30 meters high and has a diameter of approximately 36 meters.  

When you go inside the fort and enter the tower, it almost looks like a large courtyard. There are stairs that lead you to the top of tower, however these stairs are narrow.  If you have a fear of heights, you might not want to go up.  Or at least, if you go up, you probably shouldn’t look down.  From the top of the tower, you can see all of the surrounding area.  Local shops and homes, fields and fields of green palm trees, the city beyond; all of these stretch out before your eyes. 

A Heavily Fortified Fort

Nizwa Fort was made to withstand attacks from the outside and was built in a heavily fortified and well-protected way.  Upon entering Nizwa fort, you’ll find two canons guarding the front door.  Likewise, there were canons in the tower that overlooked the area around.  Essentially, they had a 360-degree view and guards and soldiers were capable of blowing away any attacking forces outside.  The doors of the fort are inches thick to protect against being battered or torn down.  There were also secret rooms in the fort.  

Entrance of Nizwa Fort with Canons.
Woman walking in front of Nizwa Fort entrance

Any invading foe that managed to get past canon fire, the massive doors, and soldiers who might have hid in the secret rooms would have to deal with narrow winding stairs.  

Not because of it being difficult to climb, but because some of these had removable steps. An enemy could easily find himself falling into a deep hole that he thought was a step and would meet certain death.  For the attacker who got past this, there was still the issue of the murder holes.  

Narrow stairs and an entry way

Murder Holes

If you visit Nizwa fort, you’ll find that there are some holes in the ground where the walls and floors meet.  These holes have a very special purpose, and it’s not to circulate air. As a way to defend themselves, those guarding Nizwa fort would pour boiling oil or water onto the attackers below.  If these weren’t available, they would use boiling date syrup, making their unlucky victim suffer greatly and most likely even die.  

A Stash of Food and Supplies

The builders prepared themselves for possible long lasting sieges. They maintained a large store of food (particularly dates) within the fort.  In fact, as you make your way through the fort, you’ll see some bags of dates in special storerooms.  On top of that, they also built Nizwa Fort over an underground water reservoir system. Anybody who found himself trapped in the fort would at least be able to hold out for a while. 

A traditional water jug for storage at the fort
A traditional water jug.

Visiting Nizwa Fort Today

Today, Nizwa Fort is one of the most visited places in all of Oman.  Although there’s a regular, steady stream of visitors, Fridays tend to be the busiest day since so many people come to see the goat and cattle market in the souq.

 The fort is great for a visit because of its historical importance and it’s also wonderful for photography.  On some days, you’ll find a group of men who are performing the traditional Omani swordfight.  If the opportunity arises, take some time to watch it.  The Nizwa Fort is open Saturdays-Thursday 8:00am-8:00pm and Fridays 8:00am-11:30am & 1:30pm-8:00pm.  The current price of admission is 5 Omani rials.    

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