Nizwa – swathed in date groves, capital of Oman proper? 2

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.

Nizwa, Oman

Nizwa, Oman. Photo credit: Benjamin White

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.

Nizwa, Oman

Photo credit: Benjamin White

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

Nizwa Fort, Oman

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

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.

Nizwa Fort

Nizwa Fort, Oman

Photo credit: Benjamin White

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.

Nizwa Fort, Oman

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

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.

Nizwa Fort, Oman

Photo credit: Benjamin White

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.

Nizwa Souq

Nizwa Souq, Oman

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

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.

Nizwa Souq, Oman

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

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?

Nizwa Souq, Oman

I seem to be in the correct resting place. Not sure about these guys beside me though 🙂 . Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

It’s frankincense.

The Frankincense Tree is endemic to Oman. Oman is the land of Frankincense.

Falaj Daris

Falaj Daris, Nizwa, Oman

Falaj Daris. Photo credit: Benjamin White

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.

Nizwa Fort, Oman

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Practical information and how to reach Nizwa:

Nizwa is 40 km from Bahla, and 140 km from the capital Muscat.

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.

More on Oman:

Jibreen Castle – boiling date oil + murder holes = unhappy attackers

The Balcony Walk – it’s Jebel Shams lite

Bahla Fort – labyrinthine 13th Century castle, but is it too schmick?

The archaeological sites of al-Khutm, Bat, and al-Ayn

Muscat – beautiful city, but don’t expect locally-grown grapes

Misfat Al Abriyeen – mud-brick city, alpine oasis, all thanks to falaj

Posts on the Middle East:


Chogha Zanbil – the original ziggurat, built by the Elamites

Shushtar – downfall of Valerian, ends in triumph for Roman engineers


Petra – Al Siq: narrow, magical chasm leading to Al Khazneh

Petra – Ad Deir: the monastery?


Doha – Souq Waqif, a spiral minaret, and a masterpiece by I.M. Pei


Pamukkale – Romans bathed in these milky white pools, so why can’t we? 

Fethiye – painterly sunsets, Lycian tombs, and full English breakfasts

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

2 thoughts on “Nizwa – swathed in date groves, capital of Oman proper?