Nizwa: A Bastion Of Oman’s Cultural History Nizqa

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26 Dec 2019 Posted By Alvin Thomas


Oman’s old capital at the base of the western Al Hajar Mountains retains its status as a bastion of cultural history, as Ashlee Starratt discovers.

Sometimes the road just calls out. Of all the beauty Oman boasts – singular within the GCC – it could also justifiably earn the title as the region’s best road-tripping destination. In case you missed our article last week on some of the Sultanate’s best road trip routes, we thought we’d hit the highway to take you on another one just as popular – Nizwa.

Located near the northern border of Ad Dhakiliyah, it’s the governorate’s largest city and an important link – both historic and contemporary – between Oman’s interiors and the capital region of Muscat. About a two-hour drive from Muscat, Nizwa makes for an ideal weekend road-trip and, on this morning, we’re keen to be up with the sun in order to make it on time for the weekly Friday market at the Nizwa Souq.

With the sun just barely tinging halos around the tips of the Al Hajar Mountains, we’re already behind the wheel, coffees hot in the cup-holders, and our road-tunes playlist sorted. At this hour of the morning the drive is leisurely and the traffic light. As Muscat’s coastal communities slip away behind us in the rearview mirror, the shadows of the mountains encroach as the highway wends and winds its way through their curves and crevices.

Mid-size towns become small road-side towns, gas stations and goats blur by, and tea shop signs tempting us with promises of piping-hot karak warrant us pulling over for a pit-stop.

We arrive in Nizwa around 8:30 a.m. to catch the last hour of the Friday livestock market which runs from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Still in full swing, we follow our noses towards the pungent aroma of goats, sheep, and cattle as livestock-owners who have travelled from nearby villages and towns to bring their animals to auction.

Located adjacent to the labyrinthine corridors of the main Nizwa Souq, the livestock market is also a place where local vendors selling handicrafts, Omani honey, and fresh dates set up shop. If you’re planning to spend the full day in Nizwa, taking a tour round the imposing Nizwa Fort after Friday prayer time is an ideal way to spend a few hours while waiting for the souq to re-open after 4:00 p.m.

One of the oldest forts in Oman, it’s been painstakingly restored to reflect the grandeur of its golden age. With its massive drum-like central tower reaching 24 metres in height, with an outer diameter of 43 metres it’s a singular landmark. Constructed in the 7th-century BCE by Imam Sultan Bin Saif Al Y’aribi, t’s inner courtyard boasts a traditional well and examples of traditional Omani carved wooden doors and their intricate detailing.

Inside the fort, the lower ground level has been transformed into a cultural museum with numerous artifacts such as weaponry, agricultural tools, and traditional articls of clothing on display. There’s also a gift shop where you can find some truly unique handicrafts from local artisans if you’re not keen on wandering through the nearby souq.

The upper levels of the fort lead up to its rooftop courtyard where seven heavily fortified battlements and multiple cannon slots made it formidable fortress then, and now – and the commanding views out of the surrounding date palm plantations make climbing the narrow stairs worth it.

After exploring the fort, and feeling peck-ish, we take a drive through the Nizwa city centre in search of lunch. A compact yet bustling commercial district, it’s a hub area that evokes a sense of the importance this city has long held throughout Oman’s history as a strategic epicentre of ancient trade routes linked to the Sultanate’s coastal areas.

Also making a weekend roadtrip to Nizwa worthwhile is its proximity to other touristic hotspots such as the Al Hoota Caves – which is just a short 35-minute drive; and also to the historic towns of Al Hamra – with its Bait Al Safah Living Museum, and the ancient city of Birkat Al Mawz. And for those with a 4×4 and a hankering to go off-road, making the ascent up Jebel Shams will take you about another two hours’ journey from Nizwa proper.

Locked in the Al Hajar’s embrace, the Ad Dhakiliyah region is an untapped gem of both natural and historic sites that carry with them an indelible cultural significance that have shaped Oman’s story. And Nizwa stands tall at the centre of its crown.

How To Get There?

From Muscat’s Seeb area, take the Burj Al Sahwa roundabout past the Wholesale Vegetable Market and onto Route 15 towards Nizwa. Continue on for roughly two hours until you see the exit signs for Nizwa.    

GPS Coordinates:  22.9171° N, 57.5363° E


Difficulty: Easy
Dist. from Muscat: 156kms

GPS Location

22.9171° N, 57.5363° E

Known For

Family Tour, Great drive, Oman Sights, Village


From Muscat’s Seeb area, take the Burj Al Sahwa roundabout past the Wholesale Vegetable Market and onto Route 15 towards Nizwa. Continue on for roughly two hours until you see the exit signs for Nizwa.

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