Bahla is the only Omani Fort to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is actually made of mud, not sand, but in color it would completely merge with the sands of the desert. It is very reminiscent of the buildings in the UAE, except that it is much older, supposedly somewhere between the 12th and the 15th centuries. It is located in the city of the same name with a population of about 65,000 people, roughly 200 km southwest of the capital of Muscat. It is open to visits until 7 pm, and although in November it is dark at 5.30pm, the hosts have tried to provide sufficient lighting.

Fort Bahla at night

When you arrive in Bahla, the first thing that will impress you are the dilapidated brick walls that wind on the outskirts. If they look like protective fortress walls to you, it is because they are protective fortress walls and in the past have enclosed the whole settlement. A total of 12 kilometers of them are preserved, albeit in poor condition. And there was definitely something to be kept behind the fortress walls, because in this climate and geography, an oasis such as Bahla has always been and still is an invaluable asset.

Bahla fortress walls

The fort is the citadel of the Old Town and, as it is, occupies one of the hills available. At its foot you will find a parking lot and clustered remains of mud-brick houses. Some of the old buildings have been renovated and are living a new life, while others were left to collapse – maybe because too many heirs could not reach an agreement as to who would be lured to restore the house so that others could queue up for their shares.

Remains of the Old Town

Like any self-respecting Fort, Bahla too looks deceptively like a simple combination of fortress walls, two or three towers and one central part. Just enter, and you will find yourself in a maze of corridors, stairs and many-sized rooms on all sides. The rooms lead to other rooms and periodically – to a narrow passage between the cubical buildings or to a surprising roof terrace. Suddenly you realize that by 7 pm you will not be able to see this Fort.

Bahla Fort from inside

Most rooms in the fort are empty and in no way will you be able to guess for their purpose. There is a notice board here and there, saying “Mosque” or “Main Gate”, and for other rooms you can make assumptions based on comparative tourism. For example, the triangular holes in the walls of the towers are very reminiscent of the pigeon lofts in the rock monasteries in Anatolia, and the arc niches with shelves can be defined as a library by analogy with other Arabian forts.

Potential library in Bahla Fort

Let the fact that the Bahla Fort is empty of interior furniture not bother you. A good treasure seeker will always find something to please them. For example, a niche shaped like a bell from the inner wall of the gate to the central building. The room for production of nutritious date syrup room, which is drained naturally by the weight of the sacks of fruit stacked on top each other. Or the remains of the oldest fortification on the hill, aged 3000 BC.

Remains of the ancient fort

You can find a special surprise in the sheltered rooms of the more isolated parts of the fort. Where you move with the flashlight of the phone because the lighting is a little scarce. If you point it to the ceiling consisting of thin rods and tangled palm fibers you will notice ethereal shapes swinging at the soft wind. It took me some time to realize what I see, but these are actually colonies of bats. I don’t know who was more surprised by our encounter – me or them.

Fortress bats

It is advisable to leave more time for the fort in Bahla. This way you won’t have to rush through the interior buildings, wondering if you were able to see everything. You will not be angry that, because of the early darkness, some of your photos are no good at all. Or that you don’t have time to have a tea in the spacious yard and visit the souvenir shop. You will not go around in an unhappy search for the beautiful mosque you have seen on the information boards before you find that it (a) is out of the fort, and (b) is closed for repair. Good luck!

Bahla Fort's yard

More of our Oman adventures can be found here.