Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987, Bahla Fort is just 30 minutes away from the more popular Nizwa Fort. It is surrounded by mud-brick houses arranged around an ancient aflaj irrigation channel system, and a palm grove.
Bahla is the historical capital of the Banu Nebhan (Nabahina) tribe, which ruled central Oman from the 12th century to the end of the 15th century. Its accomplishments are largely obscure, but it is known that it engaged in a very lucrative trade in frankincense and both its capital and the Bahla Fort stand testament to the prosperity of the tribe. Bahla is also known to have been the centre of Ibadism (a branch of Islam), on which the ancient Omani Imamates were based; its influence can be traced across Arabia, Africa and beyond. It is an impressive example of a fortified oasis settlement of the medieval Islamic period, which was instrumental in enabling dominant tribes to achieve prosperity in Oman and the Arabian Peninsula at that time.
The fort spans about eight square miles, and shows evidence of an impressive engineering plan in mind. The defensive structures included the castellated parapets, and the aflaj irrigation system indicates that the farming was well planned and sustainable. This irrigation system uses wells and underwater channels to bring groundwater from distant springs. The seasonal flow of water was also well managed to keep the oasis watered through the year.
Just outside the boundaries of the fort are a Friday mosque complete with the decoratively-sculpted prayer niche (mihrab) and the ruins of a semi-enclosed souq (market), with narrow lanes lined by single-storey shops within an outer wall. That there was a thriving craft scene in place is evidenced by the remains of carved and decoratively incised timber doors, shelves and window screens. The souq’s location made it easy to be surveilled from the fort nearby.
The best time to visit Bahla Fort is in the months between October and March.