Nizwa, Oman is a quintessential Middle Eastern town that makes for a compelling destination on account of its history, culture and ingenious relationship with nature.
The erstwhile capital of Oman in the 6th and 7th century, Nizwa has a cultural ethos that is hard to miss. Whether it is the forts, its ancient souks or its topography, there is so much charm in this town that it must be on your itinerary when in Oman. Located at the foothills of the majestic Hajar Mountains, the town is close to Oman’s famous wadis (desert valleys — think of Wadi Rum in Jordan!) and is the second most visited city by tourists after Muscat. Befittingly called the ‘Pearl of Islam,’ Nizwa is one of the oldest cities in the sultanate. Here is a list of things that you must see in this ancient town.
Visit the Nizwa Fort
This imposing 17th century fort was built by Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya’ribi, and was restored after being partly bombed in conflict with the British during the 1950s. Today it is well maintained and houses a museum. As you climb upstairs and reach the tower you will be treated to beautiful views of Nizwa and the surrounding date plantations. The fort took close to 12 years to complete and has an underground stream below. As a mute witness to the turbulent periods in Oman’s history, it is also a testament to the country’s abundant natural resources. It was built as a palace initially, but later converted into a fort.
See Nizwa Palace
Nizwa Castle Al Husn was originally built by Imam A’ssalt bin Malik Al Ya’rubi in 1624, with both public and private rooms for the Imam and his family, guards, royal retainers and guests. Accommodation was provided for religious scholars which included a well-stocked library and special rooms dedicated to prayer. In addition, the palace had kitchens, date stores, wells, coffee making rooms, ablution rooms and prisons. The castle’s perimeter wall featured a sentry walk for soldiers and loopholes for the firing of muskets.
Shop at the Ancient Souk
One of the best things to do is to walk around the ancient souk of Nizwa. The souk is organized into many sections and there is always something happening here. If you come here on Thursday and Friday morning at 7.30, you can see the goat market where vendors frantically haggle and barter over their stock. The older part of the souk is a must see (and smell!), filled with the aroma of spices like nuts, vanilla, saffron, dried lemons and more. There is a separate vegetable, meat and pottery souk. Walking around the market here you can surely pick up the famed handcrafted silver khanjars (daggers), lamps and antiques. The pick of the entire market is probably the dates section, where there are several varieties of Nizwa’s prized dates available. Another sweet souvenir is the Omani halwa, a gelatinous and fragrant delicacy of cardamom and other spices that is a must buy.
Explore the unique aqueducts
The aflaj, or aqueduct, systems of the interior are among the most complex in the country. Nizwa’s Falaj Daris is the largest of them all, with two separate water channels originating from two separate sources or mother wells. Nizwa owes its sustained prosperity to the aflaj, an indigenous system that uses gravity to channel water over long distances (often underground) from sources at the base of the Hajar mountains. There are 134 aflaj in Nizwa, of which 111 are still in active use. The first surface exit of an underground channel serves as a collection point for drinking water. From this point onward the water continues its journey above ground to supply bathing areas, mosques and plantations. The sharing of water for plantations is based on an equitable rotation system called ddawaran.
Wahiba Sands is a desert located relatively close to Nizwa and has sand dunes that go up to 100 metres high and 170 km long. There are several camps in Wahiba Sands where it is possible to camp and experience the desert and indulge in a spot of camel riding or dune dashing while watching the sun set against the stark landscape.
Located about an hour and half away in a four-wheel drive, Jebel Shams is a spectacular mountain with a massive canyon that offers several photo opportunities. Head to the town of Khateem to embark on the famed Balcony Walk along the cliffside that gives you extraordinary views of the canyon.
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