In the humble Oasis of Bahla, less than two hours drive from capital city Muscat, one historical edifice takes precedence over all others. The mud-brick Bahla Fort is one of the oldest and largest in Oman – a country famous for its impressive fortifications. Steeped in ancient history, some parts of Bahla Fort are believed to date as far back at 500 BC and were still used for daily government work into the 1970s.
The towering fort sits atop a flat plain in the Omani desert at the highest point of Bahla, offering unparalleled views of the oasis it guards. The restoration of Bahla Fort came to completion in 2012 after almost two decades of meticulous excavation and repair. Before acquiring its World Heritage status, the fort at the foothills of the Jebel Akhdar highlands had never received a much needed nip-and-tuck. The fort was inscribed to the World Heritage register in 1987 and added to the list of World Heritage in Danger the following year. Since that time, a number of archaeological endeavours have been carried out to learn more about the site and preserve its cultural integrity.
Over the years seasoned archaeologists have unearthed artefacts shedding light on Bahla's affluent past, including Iron Age pottery, Chinese wares, figurines of horses and camels and Arabic inscriptions documenting the history of the region. Although its heyday may have passed, the fortified oasis is still known for its finely crafted ceramics. Pick up a one-of-a-kind piece at the Nizwa markets, about half an hour east of Bahla, and find out if the expert potters really do have "magic in their fingers" as legend says.
Opening hours for Bahla Fort have been known to vary. The interior has recently been reopened to the public, but the external grandeur awards terrific photo opportunities if you happen to visit out of hours. The fort is traced by more than 11 kilometres of sand-coloured wall, enclosing a labyrinth of archways, watchtowers, canons, wells and wood-adorned rooms bathed in natural light, offering a glimpse of life as it was in the medieval Islamic period.