Shaquel al Balushi finds that the Samail Castle is an enchanting fortress that continues to keep its eye on the region.
Photos: Shaquel al Balushi; Words: Alvin Thomas
There’s something eerily unique about a castle. Yes, with military-themed architecture and heavily fortified walls, they all may look identical, but under the surface, each castle tells a different story – and that’s what makes my trips to these areas all the more special.
And as spectacular castles go, the one at Samail has to be among my favourites, as it sits atop a rocky crop, and is nestled carefully amid the dramatic mountainous backdrop and date farms.
I suspect that this is what gives the castle its commanding features. The line-of-sight and its strategic position must have been a nightmare for marauding opposition forces, when in war. It’s ideal for foiling an ambush.
Of course, those days are long gone now, and all that remains is the fort, its legacies and the numerous tourists who visit.
And this is exactly what I wanted to see during my trip to the historically important and beautiful town of Samail.
The trip is quite long and it is best if you have some company. As usual, I also start early in the morning to avoid any traffic, and also avoid the midday heat.
To head to Samail, you have to take the route to Nizwa and look out for road signs. Once you take the exit, it is a straight drive for 15-odd km before you can start seeing signs of the castle, and the town.
Oh, and you see, since this area of Al Dakhliyah has an abundance of historically important sites, there are numerous mosques here, too. Earlier, someone had told me that there are nearly 300 mosques within the valley (!) Impressive, isn’t it? Surprisingly, Samail was also home to Mazin bin Ghadouba –the first Omani to embrace Islam. He built the town’s first mosque in the seventh century, introducing the people of Oman to Islam.
Also, the old Silk Route passed through here, with goods from the Far East. Among those who traversed its trails were Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta.
Thankfully, by the time I visit the fort, it is only 10am, and there are not many tourists. So, I can capture the photos in peace.
The castle has started to show signs of wear-and-tear from my last visit here. However, it is still a gorgeous spectacle that oversees the underlying areas. After all these years, it continues to watch over the area. Mind you, the castle was renovated a few years ago, and it still maintains the historical style of the era; a fact you notice when you walk into the characteristically Omani heavy dark wooden doors.
Sadly, on the day I visit the fort it is closed to the public.
So I cannot find what resides inside it. I resort to clicking photos of the exterior, and the beautiful palm trees that flank the areas around it.
The exterior of the castle is typically Omani. There are high walls and the building itself is made from traditional mud bricks.
Thankfully, the weather is on my side, too: today is relatively cool and dry, and the fresh winds from the hills bring in a touch of freshness to the air.
Henceforth, I walk to the top of the mountains and admire the valleys, the groves of palm trees and the village of Samail that lay underneath.
And standing there, I realise how I can be a part of a place that is of utmost importance to my region, culture and religion. Samail isn’t just another village, it is a part of who I am, and above all, the source for all our beliefs and philosophies.
How to get there?
You do not need a 4×4 to visit the castle and other historical sites in Samail Valley. From Muscat, take the main road to Nizwa and look out for road signs. Take the Samail turn and drive around 15km, when you will see the castle well indicated by brown signs. The castle is on the right hand side of the big hill. There’s parking next to the road to the castle.
GPS location of the castle: E57°59’53. 80”; N23°18’38. 63”