When it comes to whimsical castles and forts, Oman offers beauty that could have been lifted straight from the pages of a fairytale. With that in mind, you simply can’t visit without stopping in at Jabrin Castle. Located among the palm-fringed foothills of the Jebel Akhdar highlands, the beautifully preserved 17th-century castle – built by Imam Bil’arab bin Sultan of the Yaruba dynasty – has long been a revered institute for learning. Wander through its central courtyard and dip into one of the hundreds of hidden rooms adorned with intricately painted ceilings among its labyrinth of archways and watchtowers. If you’re up for the challenge, set out to discover Bil’arab bin Sultan’s crypt – an atmospheric final resting place with carved vaults and the gentle bubbling of the falaj (water channel) flowing below.
Can’t get enough? Just five kilometres from here is the striking Bahla Fort. A fortress of astounding proportions, it is not only the oldest (built some 800 years ago by the Banu Nebhan tribe), but also the largest of its kind in Oman. Its stone foundations and surrounding 11 kilometres of fortified unbaked mud-brick walls, and the edifices within it, are thought to be among the finest Omani architecture of the medieval period. However, its disintegration over the years meant it was almost lost to the sands of time, that is until it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 – the only fort to be awarded such a title in the entire country. In the following two decades the site was restored to its former glory, before finally reopening to the public in 2012.
There’s little in the way of tourist information or exhibit displays, which means you’ll have to do your homework before you arrive, but it also leaves your mind free to wonder and imagine the various histories that took place among Bahla’s twisted alleyways, souqs and within the alcoves of its sand-coloured walls.