Bahla Fort

Bahla Fort is an outstanding example of the characteristic military architecture of the Sultanate of Oman.

The Omani civilization dates back thousands of years. In biblical times the country was the hub of the rich trade in frankincense, the aromatic gum which was once considered more precious than gold. Known for their seafaring tradition, the Sultans of Oman ruled over a wealthy trading empire that stretched from the coast of East Africa to the tip of the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

At the foot of Djebel Akhdar lie the fortresses of Rustaq to the north, and Izki, Nizwa and Bahla to the south. These have all been capitals at some time in their history, and as a consequence have played an important role in the history of Oman. It was here that the Kharijite communities resisted all attempts at 'normalization' by Caliph Harun Al-Rashid, and put into practice their religious concepts, which were at once radically puritanical and democratic.

Not far from the capital of Oman, the oasis of Bahla owed its prosperity to the Banu Nabhan who, from the mid-12th to the end of the 15th centuries, imposed their rule on the other tribes. Only the ruins of what was a glorious past now remain in this magnificent mountain site. Built on a stone base, the adobe walls and towers of the immense fort probably include some structural elements of the pre-Islamic period, but the major part of the constructions dates from the prosperous time of the Banu Nabhan, with the latest reconstruction dating from the beginning of the 16th century. At the foot of the fort, to the south-west, lies the Friday Mosque with its beautiful sculpted mihrab (prayer niche) probably dating back to the 14th century.

These monuments are inseparable from the small town of Bahla and its souk, palm grove and adobe ramparts surrounding the oasis, a remarkable work with towers, doors and underground irrigation channels.

The monuments of Bahla were in a critical state when it was inscribed on the World Heritage List. It had never been restored (thereby conserving a high degree of authenticity), and was not protected by any conservation measures. The terrace of the Friday Mosque had not undergone maintenance work, and it collapsed between 1981 and 1983, causing the arches to cave in and the wall plastering to be torn away, thus endangering the mihrab (prayer niche) in the building, which the Ibadite community had abandoned in favour of the new mosque. A detailed survey was made in 1977 by the Omani Archaeology Department, but restoration work did not make any headway until 1988. This was entirely financed by the Omani Government, with photogrammetric recording by the Mining Museum in Bochum (Germany). By 2005 it was virtually complete.

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