Nizwa was the capital of Oman proper.
What does that mean exactly?
Well, prior to 1970, the country we know as Oman was officially called the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman.
Muscat encompassed a thin strip of coastline that extended from (what is now) the United Arab Emirates in the north, to Yemen in the south.
Oman, meanwhile, was the arid interior of the country; the lands that lay between Jebel Akhdar (the Green Mountains) and the border with Saudi Arabia.
Muscat was a wealthy, formidable maritime power, and it was, ostensibly at least, the ruler of both Muscat and Oman.
In reality Oman was under the control of the Ibadi Imams – the leaders of a sect of Islam that dominated Oman proper for more than 1,000 years.
The founding of Nizwa
Surprisingly little is known about the origins of the city.
What is known is that Nizwa, 140 km inland from Muscat, was situated at the meeting point of several historical trade routes.
What started, presumably, as a trade camp, had become the capital of Oman proper by the 6th Century CE.
Immediately recognisable due to its enormous conical tower, Nizwa Fort was constructed in the mid-1600s during the reign of Sultan bin Saif bin Malik.
Sultan bin Saif, the 2nd sultan of the Yaruba Dynasty, succeeded in forcing the Portuguese out of Muscat in 1650. Removing the Portuguese from power made the Omanis fabulously wealthy, and some of that wealth was spent creating this immense fort.
The rooftop of the iconic, conical tower is accessed by a series of awkward, narrow, twisting stairwells.
Above the stairwells: dozens of murder holes, through which boiling oil – or sometimes boiling date juice (see my post on Jibreen Castle for more on this) – was poured onto the heads of attackers.
The fort is located above a natural stream, which, over the centuries, has been modified such that it is now part of the extensive network of falaj, or irrigation canals, that crisscross Oman.
The fertile – make that: relatively fertile – Nizwa valley is replete with date groves.
And there’s no place better to sample the local dates than Nizwa Souq.
The souq is famed for its ceramics and silver jewellery, as well as its khanjar (curved daggers) and other swords and weaponry.
And what’s that tantalising scent that’s wafting through the marketplace?
The Frankincense Tree is endemic to Oman. Oman is the land of Frankincense.
Okay, this is one for the engineers – I’m not sure anyone else will find this interesting 🙂
Falaj Daris is the largest falaj in Oman. It was built by Sultan bin Saif – from the same pool of riches that built Nizwa Fort.
It might not be much to look at – it is pretty much just a ditch – but it is a ditch with such significance that it has UNESCO World Heritage listing.
Practical information and how to reach Nizwa:
Public transport options are extremely limited in Oman. Travellers are best off hiring a car to get around (I say this as someone who would much rather use public transport than drive). More transport info here.