Oman merits at least a week of your vacation time. However, that is not always possible. Even a visit of a few days provides opportunities to explore some of the historical villages and forts within an easy drive of Muscat. For the most part, the main roads are excellent and marked in Arabic and English. If you only have one day, then I would recommend Nizwa, Bahla and Jabrin. If possible, include a visit to the lovely hillside town of Misfah.
Nizwa is one of the oldest cities in Oman and its strategic location at the crossroads of routes between Muscat and Dhofar made it a center of trade, arts and education. It has one of the oldest souqs in the country behind the fortified city walls.
- Tip: try to visit Nizwa on Friday mornings starting at 7:00 a.m. when there is a livestock market that is a wonder to behold.
A large area of the souq is devoted to handicrafts, especially the terra cotta pots and khanjars (traditional silver daggers) for which the region is known. Behind these pots above, the walls of Nizwa’s immense fortress appear.
Nizwa Fort is the largest such structure on the Arabian peninsula. Its circular tower, 150-feet diameter, that rises 115 feet above the rest of the fortification. The fort was built over the course of twelve years in the mid-17th century CE by Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya’rubi, although its underlying structure goes back to the 12th century. Sultan Bin Saif succeeded in expelling the Portuguese from Oman in 1650.
Ascending one of the staircases to the ramparts provides a 360 degree view of Nizwa
Only a half-an hour away, Bahla is the center of the terra cotta pottery including pots such as the ones shown at the handicrafts center in Nizwa. It is best known for its UNESCO-inscribed medieval fortress and oasis. The views from an adjacent hillside are spectacular and provide perspective on the enormity of the structure. Bahla was also the center of Ibadism, the branch of Islam observed throughout Oman.
Built in 1675 by Imam Bil-arab bin Sultan, it was an important centre of learning for astrology, medicine and Islamic law.
The intricately painted ceilings and stucco drawings are stunning examples of the era’s craftsmanship.
Windows were strategically located to provide natural air conditioning and light.
Located 1000 meters above sea level, this town is regarded as one of the most beautiful in Oman.
There are beautiful old buildings and ruins, extensive agricultural terraces, watered by an easily viewed falaj system, shaded walks and a lovely tea house.These dignitaries stopped by for tea and agreed to have their portrait taken. I love the Massar they wear – turbans of kashmiri wool – which are as varied as the kumma. Each one holds an Assa – a walking stick that is an integral part of traditional dress. More of the ubiquitous terra cotta pots, here nicely framed in an old adobe home’s window. (Our guide told us these are the most photographed ones in the country.)
While visiting these four places would make for a long day, you won’t be sorry. Next up: more mountains, the desert and the sea!