As I dashed across the courtyard from the shallow alcove where I was hiding into the shelter of a nearby archway, I felt the midday sun sear my skin. A moment of pain before the reprieve of another cool, shady spot. But something caught my eye: the contours of scalloped adobe falling in a silhouette across the smooth, packed clay of the courtyard. I had to brave the sunlight for a moment longer just to get a photo.
Nizwa Fort is one of Oman’s oldest and most significant castles. The main fort is round in shape, which makes it unique among its peers, and surrounded by a complex of intertwined storage rooms, living quarters, passageways, prayer rooms and communal spaces. In its heyday, Nizwa Fort actually served as a small enclosed city, home to Nizwa’s Imam and designed to house and protect an entire army during enemy raids.
This fort isn’t UNESCO-listed like its cousin in nearby Bahla, but the restoration work both inside and outside is flawless. It’s also a lot of fun to clamber around and explore. The fort’s centrepiece is its central courtyard with famous zigzag staircases that accommodate the curve of the rounded walls. Beyond this, there is a network of rooftops that offer spectacular views of Nizwa souq and the city. After ascending a few different levels, I got a good look at the minaret and dome of the nearby mosque.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the sun twists in the sky, altering the hues and textures of the saruj plaster, the adobe-like covering made from local clay that gives Nizwa Fort and so many other Omani buildings their earthy tone. Shadows rise and fall, casting different architectural elements into relief and revealing wicked shapes and patterns that were invisible just a few minutes earlier.
Deep in its shadowy depths, Nizwa Fort houses a small museum that is well worth seeing. The Omani Heritage Gallery shop at the fort’s entrance sells a number of handmade, high-quality souvenirs, including beautiful goat’s wool textiles that outshine anything we found in the souq.