The Note Issues of the Sultanate of Oman
First published in
International Bank Note Society Journal
Volume 34, No.2, 1995
This edition has been corrected and updated.
The banknotes of the Sultanate of Oman are amongst the most popular of all Arab countries. As a modern series they are available to most collectors, and provide an opportunity to collect a complete series of a country without too much expense – although the two or three ‘key’ notes are now becoming a little scarce and the high denomination notes may prove a barrier to some collectors.
Before entering into the modern history of Oman and the banknotes issued by the Sultanate, it is worth mentioning the definitive volume on Omani currency – the History of Currency in the Sultanate of Oman by Robert E. Darley-Doran. This magnificent volume was published on behalf of the Central Bank of Oman by Spink and Son Limited (London) in 1990, and is an excellent history of Oman’s currency. Any collector of Omani currency (coins or banknotes) would be the better for owning – or at least reading – this volume.
While the History of Currency in the Sultanate of Oman is an excellent history, and contains much technical information, there are a number of areas that the banknote collector may find deficient. These areas include the subtle reasons for the changes to the banknote issues over the years, the descriptive aspects of the notes, and the translations from the Arabic. As well as concentrating on these subjects, this study also addresses the new series issued since the publication of the book. However, in order to appreciate the subtle and intriguing changes to the Omani banknotes over their numerous issues it is necessary to know a little of the history of Oman.
Situated on the eastern tip of the Arabian peninsular, Oman has always had a commanding position of the ancient trade routes. Vessels moving west from India to the Persian Gulf, or south to the African coast, had to come by way of the Omani ports. Because of its strategic location Oman was at various times a strong power in its own right or governed by the dominant empire of the time – such as the Persians and Portuguese. While each of these imperial authorities had an important influence on Oman, our interest in Omani history is limited to the modern era, and the modern history of Oman is dominated by the position of the ‘Imam’.
Originally, the Imam was an Islamic religious leader. However, in later years (during the Ibadi period of Eastern Arabia) the Imam became not only the religious leader but also the commander of the army and the head of state. When the accession to the office of Imam developed into dynastic cycles, the religious attributes of the position became less, and the Imam became more and more the secular leader. The last family of the Ibadi dynasty, the Albu Said finally dropped all claim to the religious functions of the Imam and became simply secular leaders. (The present sultan is descended from the Albu Said family, but under Sultan Qaboos the family is referred to as the ‘Al Said’.)
With the Sultans’ concentration on secular power, there arose several movements backed by various tribal sheiks to re-establish the position of Imam as a religious leader. These movements began in the 19th century and continued well into the 20th century. By the time Said bin Taimur (the father of the present Sultan) ascended to the Sultanate in 1932 the position of Imam had been re-established in the interior of Oman for a number of years – the Imam exercising some secular powers as well as religious power.
The Imam and the new Sultan were on good terms during the early years of the Sultan’s rule, but this good relationship existed mainly because there was little reason for the Sultan to exercise influence in the interior. However, in 1954 the balance changed. The old Imam (Muhammad bin ‘Abdullah al Khalili) died and the new Imam (Ghalib bin ‘Ali) sought to establish central Oman as an independent state. In addition to opposing the separatist movement the Sultan sought to explore the interior for oil, an exercise that was being hampered by the new Imam.
Initially the problem was solved in 1955 when the Sultan’s forces moved into the interior and met no resistance in establishing his authority. However the brother of the Imam (Talib) fled to Cairo, from where he returned in 1957 to lead a revolt which included a number of influential Sheiks. Although the revolutionary forces were defeated at the battle of Firq in August of the same year, the leaders of the revolt managed to retire to the mountains in the centre of Oman.
During the battles against the Imamate forces in 1957 the Sultan had been assisted by the British. This assistance was extended in 1959 to the use of the British Special Air Service in removing the final elements of resistance from the mountain embattlements. Although 1959 marks the end of the revolt, there remained many tribes in the interior who did not easily accept the authority of the Sultan. Thus the Sultanate remained somewhat divided, even though it was a single political entity. The division was made around two major areas of the Sultanate, which can be loosely described as ‘Muscat’ and ‘Oman’. ‘Muscat’ includes the city of Muscat, the Batinah coast to the north and the south-east coast to Sur. ‘Oman’ is in essence the interior of the Sultanate, and it is sometimes referred to as ‘Oman proper’.
In addition to these two areas, there is the fertile province of Dhofar which lies to the south of Oman, bordering Yemen. In 1958 the Sultan settled in Salalah (the main city of Dhofar). From here he ruled the Sultanate and until the end of his reign he never left this city.
The reign of Said bin Taimur was characterised by caution and strict economy. In many ways his early years were commendable, as he managed to bring his very poor Sultanate out of an economic mire into a period of stability. However, no sooner had he done this, than oil was discovered and the potential income of the Sultanate became considerable.
Despite the new-found wealth, the Sultan’s despotic reign and strict economic measures continued. He seemed unable, or unwilling, to develop his country and his economy. No schools or hospitals were built, and the Sultan continued to hold absolute power with no delegation apparent. The oppression he visited on his people caused much discontent, including a revolt in Dhofar which began in 1965. Finally, he was toppled in a palace coup in 1970 and was succeeded by his son, Qaboos bin Said. Said bin Taimur was exiled to London where he died in 1972.
From the moment Qaboos bin Said took his father’s place Oman began to change and the change has continued at such a rapid pace that Oman is today one of the most developed countries in the Arab world. However, the successful development of Oman did not come easily – there being several financial crises and much political jockeying within the country. Qaboos was so eager to modernise his country that he and his government spent far more than the country was earning, and by 1974 Oman was in a deep financial crisis. However, increasing oil prices and some strict management saw the economy slowly come under control.
When Qaboos had seized the Sultanate from his father he had many allies, one of the strongest being his uncle – Tarik bin Taimur. When Tarik returned from exile, following the coup, he was appointed Prime Minister by Qaboos; however the two men did not see eye to eye and in December 1971 Tarik resigned. (Qaboos has never seen the need to appoint another Prime Minister.)
As Qaboos was absolute ruler of Oman, there were many groups, alliances, and individuals who sought to influence him. In the early 1970s there were a number of reorganisations of Ministries, councils, and advisers, and rather than being a sign of developing a modern country ‘All this shuffling and reshuffling represented the reality of power sharing rather than reorganisation for efficiency’ (Skeet 1992, page 65).
Despite many advances in Oman, and a great effort to diversify the economy, Oman is still reliant on oil revenue. In 1988 the only other exports to achieve over RO 1 million were fish, copper cathodes, and limes (Skeet 1992, page 105). It is also interesting to note that while a great effort has been made to unify the divergent elements of the country, administration is today both centralised and regionalised. This is due to the recognition that it is as important to give regional identity to parts of the country as well as a national identity.
From the time of the accession of Qaboos, changes were made to various Omani instruments in an effort to display a united country – a good example being the flag. Originally the flag of Muscat and Oman was simply a red banner, but Qaboos added a panel of white, a panel of green, and the ‘Khanjar’. The panel of white represents old Oman (the Oman of the Imamate), the green represents the fertile province of Dhofar, and the Khanjar is the badge of the Albu Saids and also the national emblem. The Khanjar is made up of two crossed scimitars and a dagger (the gambia), all linked with an ornate belt.
Other changes were made by Qaboos, some of which could be described simply as cosmetic – such as changing the name of the country from ‘Muscat and Oman’ to ‘Oman’ – but they all aimed to present a single united entity, and his aim has largely been successful. One of the many areas changed by Qaboos was the currency, and it is of course this area which is of most interest to us – especially the banknotes.
Surprising as it may seem, there was no national currency in Oman until 1970, and whilst Omani coins have been in use for hundreds of years – there were many different currencies in use in Oman prior to 1970. The multitude of currencies circulating in Oman caused a great deal of confusion, which can be seen in the following description of the market at Muttrah:
‘If you are a Muttrah merchant you must be equally versatile at least in rupees, annas, naya peis, dollars, pounds, baizas, dinars; annas do not exist officially, but are referred to as often as naya peis, which no longer officially exist either; there are now 64 baizas in a rupee, which used to contain 16 annas and later 100 naya peis, and which is still valued at the old pre-1966 Indian devaluation rate, but only 3 baiza and 5 baiza coins exist for small change; the Maria Theresa dollar (M.T.D.) (officially pegged at 5 rupees, but unobtainable at that price) is divided into 120 Omani baizas, which are quite different from Muscati baizas (needless to add, Dhofari baizas are different again); exchange rates tend to be described in terms of rupees to a Kuweiti dinar, but may equally be in terms of the Bahraini dinar which used to equal 10 Muscat rupees before the 1967 sterling devaluation, or in terms of M.T.Ds. (referred to indiscriminately as dollars or riyals, which may alternatively be U.S. dollars or Saudi riyals in a different context) to 100 rupees; and you must also be on your guard for rupees to the M.T.D. or rupees to the gold tola bar.’ (Skeet 1985, page 54)
Prior to the introduction of its own currency, the primary currencies used for exchange outside Oman were the Indian Rupee and the Maria Theresa Dollar (MTD, often referred to as the Maria Theresa Thaler), the full-bodied silver trade coin used in most of the Arabian Peninsula. The Indian External Rupee, or Gulf Rupee, replaced the Indian Rupee in the states of the Arabian Gulf in 1959. In 1966, when the Indian Rupee was devalued, most states opted to drop the External Rupee as its official currency, but Oman chose to continue its use. This was probably due to the large amount of trade between India and Oman. From late 1966 to 1970 Oman was the only country that continued to use the External Rupees.
The decision of Said bin Taimur, in 1969, to introduce a national currency was a much needed and much welcomed initiative, not simply because it replaced the External Rupee, but because it replaced the many currencies circulating in the markets of Muscat and Oman. The new currency was placed in circulation on 7 May 1970 and was one of the last acts of the Sultan, as the palace coup took place in July the same year. Since the currency had just been released at the point of Qaboos’ accession, it was not an opportune time to reform the notes, but this did happen in 1972 (the reforms being noted below).
One interesting use of symbols on the Omani banknotes is the use of forts to illustrate the reverse of the notes. The theme begins in the first issue and continues through to the fifth issue, although by the fourth issue their use becomes less dominant and by the fifth issue their use is minor. The choice of forts appearing on the notes is carefully orchestrated so that the forts alternatively come from Muscat (and its area of influence) and Oman proper. Of the forts depicted in all note issues, Jalali and Mirani forts are located within the city of Muscat, Muttrah Fort is in Muscat’s neighbouring port of Muttrah, and Sohar is on the Batinah coast – making these forts representative of Muscat. Rustaq, Sumail, Nizwa, Jabreen, Bahla, Nakhal and Al-Hazm forts are located in the interior and very much represent Oman proper.
We will see that on the first and second series there were depicted three forts under the tutelage of Muscat and two under that of Oman. In the third series the slight imbalance was corrected with three forts from Oman proper, as well as the three from Muscat. The fourth series saw a change in emphasis away from the use of forts with only five of the nine banknotes having forts depicted. However, of the five forts, three belong to Oman proper and two to Muscat. In the fifth series the ½- and 50-rial notes carry illustrations of forts. Muttrah fort, from the area under Muscat’s influence, appears on the front of the ½-rial note and Nakhal and al-Hazm forts, from Oman proper, are on the back. The 50-rial note carries an illustration of Mirani fort on its front.
While Qaboos and his advisers have maintained the representative balance of the forts in later note issues, they have moved away from images that so clearly represent the old allegiances and moved towards non-aligned images. Thus, on later issues we see the depiction of Port Qaboos, the modern fishing industry, Sultan Qaboos University, and the Central Bank of Oman – symbols of Oman’s progress rather than its heritage.
There have been five note issues for Oman, and the details of these issues are as follows:
The first issue of Omani notes immediately strikes one as incredibly ornate, with the obverse of each note covered with fine interwoven lines, arabesques, and patterned backgrounds. The dominant feature of each note is the ‘Khanjar’ (the crossed scimitars and gambia, which is the emblem of the Sultanate) that appears in a white area to the right of the notes and is repeated in the watermark to the left.
The reverse of the 100-baisa note carries a geometric design but each of the other denominations has a fort – establishing the theme for future issues. The forts on the respective notes are:
¼ rial – Jalali Fort
½ rial – Sumail Fort
1 rial – Sohar Fort
5 rials – Nizwa Fort
10 rials – Mirani Fort
The distinguishing features of this issue are the name of the Sultanate and the name of the currency. Issued under the reign of Said bin Taimur the name of the Sultanate appears on the notes as the ‘Sultanate of Muscat and Oman’ – perhaps the easiest way to recognise this issue. The units of currency are ‘Rials Saidi’, the monetary unit adopting the name of the Sultan’s family – ‘Said’.
The Arab text on the front of the notes reads (across the top of the note)
‘Sultanate of Muscat and Oman’
‘These banknotes are legal tender to trade with One Rial Saidi’
The reverse of all notes has the issuing authority and the denomination written in English – a move in deference to the strong British support that the Sultanate enjoys. All notes carry a solid security thread.
These notes were introduced under the ‘Currency Decree 1390’, which consisted of the ‘Currency (specifications) Decree’ and the ‘Currency (appointed day) Decree’. The notes were issued by the Muscat Currency Authority, which acted on behalf of the Sultan. However, the day-to-day administration of the currency was handled by the British Bank of the Middle East, under terms agreed between the Sultan and the Currency Authority. The new currency was exchanged with the Indian External Rupees over a fourteen-day period commencing on 7 May 1970. The rate of exchange was one External Rupee to 75 new baisas. During the period of exchange, some 32.7 million rupees were converted into Rials Saidi. Although not legal tender, the Maria Theresa Dollars were exchanged at the rate of ½ Rial Saidi per MTD.
Following the introduction of the second issue of Omani notes (see below), the notes of the first issue ceased to be legal tender as of 25 November 1976.
The design of the second issue is almost the same as the first but there are two major differences – these being due to the reforms of Sultan Qaboos bin Said. By the time this issue of notes was released, Sultan Qaboos had been in power for over two years and the name of the country had changed to ‘The Sultanate of Oman’. The name change flowed through to the issuing authority and the name of the currency. The new issuing authority was the Oman Currency Board and the currency was denominated as Rials Omani (as opposed to Rials Saidi). The new notes were issued under the ‘Currency Decree 1392’.
The changes to the name of the currency and the issuing authority resulted in the most obvious alterations to the new notes, with the Arab text on the notes of this issue reading
‘Oman Currency Board’
‘These banknotes are legal tender to trade with One Rial Omani.’
The English inscription on the back of the notes also changes to become ‘Oman Currency Board’.
One further design change occurs on the reverse of most notes (with the exception of the 1- and 10-rial notes), where there is additional decoration at the lower corner of the notes to cover the reduced space of the English inscription. Other changes are predominantly note specific and relate to the Arab script:
Arabic is usually written in an informal script that omits short vowels and various diacritical marks that indicate specific emphases and pronunciation. Formal Arabic script includes these elements, but it is rarely used, apart from in the Koran, dictionaries, grammar texts, and official documents. The formal script which uses the short vowels and diacritical markings was used on the notes of the first issue for the name of the issuing authority and the denomination of each note. However, in the second issue the formal script is retained for the name of the issuing authority, but the script giving the value of the notes is written in informal Arabic script.
The Banking Law of 1974 completely overhauled the management of financial institutions in Oman. It introduced regulations for commercial banking in Oman, defined the use of negotiable instruments and deposits held by the banks, and, most importantly, it established the Central Bank of Oman. The Central Bank commenced business on 1 April 1975, taking over the responsibilities of the Oman Currency Board and, less than two years after it was founded, an issue of notes was made under its authority.
The third issue is similar in most respects to the earlier issues, with the principal design features of the Khanjar, the arabesques, and the forts on the reverse all being maintained. However each note has been re-designed, and the 200-baisa and the 20- and 50-rial notes have been introduced.
The most easily recognisable difference between the third issue and its predecessor is that the issuing authority is now the ‘Central Bank of Oman’ as opposed to the ‘Oman Currency Board’. The Arabic text now reads
‘Central Bank of Oman’
followed by (now in the singular):
‘This banknote is of legal value and is equal to One Rial.’
The English inscription on the reverse also reflects the change in issuing authority. Another feature of this issue is that the Khanjar at the right of each note no longer sits in a white background, but is set against the patterned background of the note.
The 100-baisa note has been increased in size and now carries an aerial view of Port Qaboos at Muttrah on its reverse. The ¼-rial and ½-rial notes are also increased in size, but the 1-rial note remains the same and the 5-and 10-rial notes are reduced in size. Each denomination carries the same dominant colours as its predecessor in the previous issues.
The introduction of the 20-rial note is notable for its portrait of Sultan Qaboos. Islamic teaching frowns on the depiction of people in any form. Men and women, and indeed all animate entities, are regarded as the work of God and many Muslims consider it inappropriate for man to imitate what God has created. The belief is not a strict tenet of Islamic faith and many Islamic countries now use portraits on their notes. The 50-rial note introduced a modified portrait of the Sultan and this portrait has been used for subsequent issues. As on the 100-baisa note, the 20-rial note does not depict a fort on its reverse, instead we see the headquarters of the Central Bank of Oman. This begins the subtle process of removing the old symbols of the forts and introducing symbols of Oman’s modernisation.
However, the forts are not entirely dispensed with, as Jabreen fort appears on the back of the new 50-rial note (introduced in 1982) and Rustaq Fort makes its appearance on the new 200-baisa note (introduced in 1985). The 50-rial and 200-baisa notes are noticeable for two reasons – they are the first notes to carry the signature of the Sultan (as opposed to a bank or government official) and they carry additional security features.
While all notes of this issue use fluorescent inks in the design on the front of the notes, the 50-rial and 200-baisa notes introduces specific fluorescent features. These features are:
(The fluorescent features are apparent when the banknote is submitted to ultra-violet light.)
All notes maintain the use of the Khanjar as the watermark to the left of the note. Darley-Doran (1990, page 99) states that the 20-rial note carries a watermark of the Sultan, but unless there are two varieties of the note (which seems unlikely) it would appear he made a mistake.
The notes of the fourth issue are distinct from previous issues by displaying the portrait of Sultan Qaboos on all denominations and carrying enhanced security features. This issue is also peculiar in that each denomination has been introduced as required, rather than all at once, with the 50-rial notes being introduced in 1985 and the 5-rial note being the last denomination introduced in 1990.
The portrait of the Sultan is the dominant feature on each note, with the portrait being the same on all notes save the 100 baisa – where the portrait is slightly more ‘full face’. Not only is the portrait now the dominant feature, it is also the watermark and the major fluorescent device on each note.
Despite the dominant use of the portrait, many aspects of the previous issues are retained – the fine lines and arabesques, the colours, and the text. The Khanjar, so prominent in the previous issues, is now a small device at the top centre of each note, as well as appearing as a latent image in the 200-baisa, ¼-rial, ½-rial, and 1-rial notes. The Khanjar also appears as a fluorescent device on all notes save the 100 baisa.
This series introduces an abundance of security features and, while there are many security features introduced to the notes, they are slightly different for each denomination.
The forts of Jalali and Sumail are removed from the ¼- and ½-rial notes in this issue and are replaced respectively with a scene of the modern Omani fishing industry and Sultan Qaboos University. However, the introduction of the 50-rial note brings the appearance of Jibreen (or Jabreen) fort, a fort located in Oman proper. This imbalance of forts in favour of Oman proper (which is now 3 to 2) is in some way compensated by the fact that the four notes that contain no forts may be seen to represent areas influenced by Muscat – the Bank of Oman building, Sultan Qaboos University, the fishing industry, and Port Qaboos; although they are presented as images of modern Oman.
The fourth series is the first of the Omani notes to carry dates of issue – albeit only the year of issue. The notes and their various dates of issue can be seen in the following table.
Denomination Years of Issue
The fifth issue of notes by Oman, and the third issue by the Central Bank, was released into circulation on 1 November 1995. Each note carries a portrait of Sultan Qaboos on the right-hand side of the front, while various scenes and building are depicted on the fronts and backs of the notes. The scenes and buildings highlight the development of Oman during the period of Sultan Qaboos’ reign. The principal images depicted on each note are as follows:
|100 Baisa||Falajs Irrigation System||Omani birds, an oryx and wildlife.|
|200 Baisa||Seeb and Salalah airports||Sultan Qaboos Port, Raysut Port and Fisheries Centre.|
|½ Rial||Bahla Castle||Nakhal Fort and Al-Hazm Castle.|
|1 Rial||Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, Burj Al-Sahwa, and a road and flyover network.||Omani gambia (dagger), traditional Silver jewellery, and traditional shipbuilding.|
|5 Rials||Sultan Qaboos University.||Aerial view of Nizwa town.|
|10 Rials||Al-Nadha tower in Salalah, plus a coconut palm and frankincense trees.||Aerial view of Muttrah Fort and Corniche.|
|20 Rials||Headquarters of the Central Bank of Oman||Muscat Security Market and Oman Chamber of Commerce buildings, plus the Rusayl Industrial Area.|
|50 Rials||Ministry of Finance and Economy, plus Mirani Fort.||Cabinet Building, plus the Ministry of Commerce and Industry building|
The notes of this series can be divided into two groups, differentiated by their design. The low denomination notes, up to the 1-rial note, share common design elements while higher denomination notes share their own design elements. In addition, the higher denomination notes have all had a second release, with an incised foil strip being laid vertically over the right-hand side of the notes of the later release. The notes with the incised foil strip were released in the year 2000 (and carry that date).
Apart from the notes with the incised foil strip, there is one other variety of note in this series, with the variety occurring in the issue of the first 5-rial note. When first introduced, the 10-, 20- and 50-rial notes of this series carried a security feature on the back of the notes, which consisted of golden khanjars printed in a vertical strip. The khanjars are not always obvious and the notes may have to be tilted against the light for the khanjars to become apparent. The 5-rial note was originally issued without this security feature, but it was quickly added to later issues. Speculation remains as to whether it was intentionally omitted from notes of the first issue, or whether the omission was an accident.
Serial number sequences
All notes issued in Oman carry a fractional serial number prefix, of a letter over a number (in Arabic characters). The letter is the same for each denomination, with the letter identifying the series to which the banknote belongs. The letters used for each series are:
ا – Notes issued by the Muscat Currency Authority
ب – Notes issued by the Oman Currency Board
ا – Notes of the first issue by the Central Bank of Oman
ب – Notes of the second issue by the Central Bank of Oman
ج – Notes of the third issue by the Central Bank of Oman
The sequence of letters used to identify each series of notes is the ‘abjad’ or ‘numeric’ sequence of the Arabic alphabet. The sequence initially commenced with the first issue of notes and continued into the second issue. However, when the Central Bank of Oman commenced issuing notes, the sequence started afresh and continued to the third issue by the Bank.
This brings us to the end of the history and description of the Omani banknotes, but since the Omani forts dominate the notes it is worth looking a little further into their use. The forts are a significant series of symbols, with eleven forts having appeared on the notes – Sohar and Nizwa appearing in the first four series; Jalali and Sumail in the first three series; Rustaq in the third and fourth series; Jabreen in the fourth series; Muttrah, Nakhal and al-Hazm in the fifth series; and Mirani fort appearing in all five series. However the use of the forts as symbols of Oman did not begin with their appearance on the banknotes, as this distinction belongs to the postage stamps of Muscat and Oman.
On a 1966 postage stamp issue, the forts of Nakhal, Sumail, Sohar, Nizwa, Matrah, and Mirani were depicted. The forts again made an appearance on postage stamps in 1978 when they were used to celebrate National Day, this time the forts depicted were – Jalali, Nizwa, Rustaq, Sohar, Bahla, and Jabreen. In addition to the postage stamps and banknotes, there have been three coins issued where the forts of Buraimi, Mirbat, and al-Hazam were represented. The forts appeared on the 1-, ½- and ¼-rial coins issued in 1977 (1397) and again when they were re-issued in 1987 (1407).
The forts depicted on the banknotes are quite different in their architecture, origins, and history – so it is pertinent to finish this study of the Omani banknotes with a short description of each fort.
Jalali Fort is one of two forts to be found in Muscat – it being found protecting the western side of Muscat harbour. Jalali was built by the Portuguese in 1587 under the direction of Melchior Calaca and was originally called San Joao. During the reign of Said bin Taimur the fort was used as the jail in Muscat.
Mirani Fort is the second fort in Muscat and was built in 1588 by the Portuguese in an effort to strengthen their position in that city. Built on the eastern side of Muscat harbour, it was originally called ‘Fort Capitan’ and was constructed under the direction of Dom Manuel do Souza Coutinho. During the reign of Said bin Taimur, Mirani fort was used as the headquarters of the Muscat garrison.
Sohar Fort is to be found in the city of the same name which can in turn be found on the Batinah Coast to the north-west of Muscat. Although Sohar was one of the principal ports used by the Portuguese, the fort of Sohar predates the arrival of the Portuguese in 1507, and is described by the conquering Alberquerque. (It is a common myth that all the forts in Oman were built by the Portuguese.)
Sumail Fort lies at the end of the Sumail Gap in the town of the same name, and has usually been considered the strategic point to the interior. Throughout the history of the Sultanate many attacks were either launched from here to the coast, or it was the first point captured before an attack from the coast continued into the interior.
Nizwa Fort is visually the most impressive of all the forts as it has a huge round tower that dominates the surrounding landscape. It was built by Sultan bin Seif over three hundred years ago after he had evicted the Portuguese from Muscat. The fort took twelve years to build and reportedly cost eighty thousand crowns. Nizwa has always been considered the key possession for anyone aspiring to control the old Oman and for many years was the Imamate capital.
Rustaq Fort is in the town of the same name, and it was also a commonly used capital for the Imamate. The fort in Rustaq is one of the oldest in Oman and was probably built by the Persians long before the arrival of Islam. However it has been added to over the years and parts of the fort are quite modern.
Jabreen Fort was built by Bil’arub bin Sultan bin Saif (whose father built Nizwa fort) around 1670 at the height of the Ya’ruba period. It was most often used as a retreat of the Imams and is more associated with a peaceful existence than a place of battles. Despite its peaceful reputation it is still a stronghold and has the dungeons and other features one would expect to find in such a large fortress.
Muttrah Fort was built by the Portuguese in the 1580s and sits astride a hilltop that dominates the bay. Overlooking the old houses and narrow streets of Muttrah (the immediate neighbour of Muscat), the fort is now used by government security forces.
Bahla Castle lies in the Oasis of Bahla, which is today a centre for the date trade. Bahla owes its fame to being the principal town of the Banu Nebhan, the principal tribe of that area from the twelfth to fifteenth century. The ruins of the huge Bahla Fort rise 165 feet above the village. Unlike many forts within Oman, no attempt had been made to restore it until the 1980s. In 1987 it was listed on the World Heritage List and restoration of the fort has been undertaken in the period following the listing. The walls and towers of the castle are made from earthen brick and the foundations are of stone, and is a remarkable example of this type of fortification.
Nakhal Fort is named after the nearby date-palm groves and dominates the valley it was built to protect. Behind the fort looms the mighty cliffs and peaks of the Jebel Akhdar. Nakhal Fort sits atop large slabs of rock and appears to be an extension of the rocks on which it is built, as the colour of the exterior is the same colour of the rock. Sitting one hundred feet above the floor of the valley, the spectacular exterior is enhanced by the intricate interior, which had false corridors and passageways with sharp turns designed to confuse invaders. There was also an escape tunnel should those in the fort be overrun. Originally a pre-Islamic structure, the fort has been modernized and updated over the centuries and until 1980 the fort was the residence of the Wali.
Al-Hazm Castle is in the village of Al-Hazm, just off the road from Rustaq to the coast. No longer an important centre, the castle evokes a bygone era. Although largely built around 1710, parts of the fort date back to 1512. The fort has two large towers and looks across the Batinah plain. Although a formidable structure, there was supposedly an escape tunnel that went to Rustaq, over 30 kilometres away.
The Ministry of National Heritage and Culture has in recent years launched a program to renovate the many forts scattered throughout the Sultanate – the program being undertaken with assistance from Morocco. Most of the forts have lost their traditional uses, and today most are likely to be found as museums.
- Central Bank of Oman, Annual Report 1975, Muscat, 1976.
- Central Bank of Oman, Notice – Date: October 28th, 1995, Muscat, 1995.
- Darley-Doran, R. E. (1990) History of Currency in the Sultanate of Oman, Spink & Son Limited – London (on behalf of the Central Bank of Oman)
- Skeet, I. (1985) Oman Before 1970 – The End of an Era, Faber and Faber – London
- Skeet, I. (1992) Oman: Politics and Development, Macmillan Academic and Professional Ltd – Houndmills, Basingstoke
This article was completed in January 2004
© Peter Symes