Bahla Fortress (World Heritage), Oman

By | December 15, 2022

The oasis town of Bahla, around 180 km southwest of Muscat, has one of the most remarkable fortresses on the Arabian Peninsula: the Hisn Tamah fortress, built in Omani clay architecture. Bahla itself was the capital of the Nabhani dynasty from the 12th to 17th centuries, which built the mighty fortress. The city is surrounded by a 12 km long and up to 5 m high city wall.

Bahla Fortress: Facts

Official title: Bahla Fortress
Cultural monument: Meaning: Ruins of the Hisn Tamah fortress, a prime example of Omani clay architecture
Continent: Asia
Country: Oman
Location: Bahla, on the edge of the Western al-Hadjar Mountains, southwest of Muscat
Appointment: 1987
Meaning: a remarkable fortress on the Arabian Peninsula and testament to the power of the Nabhani

Bahla Fortress: History

1406 Bahla as the capital of Oman under Imam Makhzum Ibn Al Fallah and residence of the Nabhani dynasty
1610 Conquering the fortress, then razing it

A mud mountains made by human hands

In the heart of Oman, surrounded by wild, rugged, barren mountains, a lush green carpet of date palm groves spreads out – the Bahla oasis. A little paradise, surrounded by a rocky lunar landscape in red and ocher tones. In addition to dates, bananas, mangoes, limes, cereals and vegetables are also grown on the fertile soil. This little Garden of Eden is made possible by the constant influx of fresh spring water from the nearby mountains. And then the residents of Bahla also have an abundance of the region’s most important building material: clay.

Just like over a thousand years ago, the clay deposits still determine the appearance of the place today. A defensive wall made of mud, more than ten kilometers long, winds over the adjacent mountains and through the wadi, protecting the large date groves with the small mud houses scattered around them. This mud wall is only broken through by the modern thoroughfare in two places.

According to clothesbliss, Bahla has always been the traditional center of pottery in Oman. As before, all kinds of ceramics are turned here and, as in the past, burned in huge clay ovens. But the abundance of clay manifests itself most clearly in the great fortress of Bahla, Hisn Tamah: it rises like a gigantic mountain massif made of clay on the edge of the oasis. Craggy clay walls soar into the sky, collapsed walls reveal ever more bizarre structures shaped by wind and weather, but also ornaments precisely cut into clay. On the edge of the fortress are the remains of a small and a large mosque, also heavily marked by weathering.

Bahla achieved its greatest importance in the first decade of the 15th century, when the oasis became the capital of Oman and the residence of the ruling Nabhani dynasty under the rule of Imam Makhzum Ibn Al Fallah. The extensive maritime trade network of the Omanis at that time spanned the Gulf region, East Africa, Zanzibar, India, Persia and Ceylon as well as the even more distant Indonesia. Everything noble and valuable was traded: ivory, gold, silver and precious stones, all kinds of spices, silk and porcelain. The basic conception of the building probably comes from these lucrative days, but the origins probably go back to pre-Islamic times. The final expansion to by far the largest and most imposing of the more than 800 clay fortresses in the Sultanate took place in the 17th century,

A clay building the size of the fortress of Bahla could only be built over several centuries. The heavy rain showers, which rain down over the mountains in the winter months, damaged the sensitive building fabric at all times and made regular repairs necessary. These measures, which are important for the preservation of the fortress, were discontinued in the last century when Oman had finally lost its role as a sea trading power and thus its wealth. Since Bahla was also of no importance, the now neglected stately fortress complex was transformed into a rugged clay massif.

The attempts that began in the early 1990s to preserve this unique cultural monument are correspondingly difficult. The measures introduced are accompanied by the question of where the construction of the fortress begins and where the conservation of existing structures ends. In view of the existing severe structural damage, the border is difficult to see. Further questions arise: How many years will it take to preserve this mud mountain, which has been formed over centuries, in its shape? What was its original shape anyway? How do you protect what you have already done from rain in the future?

Such a restoration project seems to require supernatural strength and insight from planners and workers; a thought that does not seem absurd in Bahla, however, as the residents of this oasis are known throughout Arabia for their magical abilities, with which nothing seems impossible. From 1988 to 2004 Bahla was on the Red List of World Heritage in Danger, but the restoration methods applied based on traditional building techniques are beginning to bear fruit.

Bahla Fortress (World Heritage)