The Al Jalali Fort of Oman is among its best-known fortresses-and that is saying a lot indeed in a country where forts are literally peppered throughout the landscape. Al Jalali is of particular importance, though, not just because it is one of the main forts guarding the capital but also because it overlooks one of the main points of entry into the country for seafarers: the Bay of Muscat itself.
If you do come to Muscat and ask people how to get to the fort, do not be surprised if some of them call it Ash Sharqiya instead. This is another name for it locally, although perhaps a less popular appellation. The more widely recognised name of the fort is said to have been derived from the words for “great beauty”, although others argue that it is taken, rather, from the name of a shah of Persia. Whatever the case, one cannot deny that either root would be fitting: the fort’s setting has a marvellous splendour all to itself, rendering it worthy of having a name indicating its beauty, while its majestic perch gives it the dignity to be named after a shah.
The fort is said to have been built in the 1500’s. Many say that the Portuguese completed their work on it in 1587 and held the area for several years. It was not until the middle of the 17th century that they were expelled from the fort and the fort fell to the hands of the Omanis, who then proceeded to restore as well as redesign the fort to suit local tastes as well as requirements better. What you see now is a fort more in keeping with the architectural style of many of the other local forts than it must have been when it was first constructed.
The fort has a decidedly impressive façade even now: a pair of towers with a wall stretching between them. The wall has embrasures at regular intervals for cannon fire facing the bay, presenting one of the very first defences that potential invaders coming from the sea would have to overcome. The insides of the fort, however, have changed. Sultan Qaboos bin Said converted it into a grand museum of sorts in order to house a stunning collection of memorabilia, artefacts, and other items evoking local culture for great personages or dignitaries come to visit the capital. There are knives, daggers, guns, and all sorts of weapons on display as well as some of the most exquisite pieces of Omani heritage extant, like fine examples of local metalwork and intricately woven rugs and carpets.
At present, Al Jalali Fort is entered from the side facing the harbour with cable car services. It is not actually open to the public all the time, and most people visiting the capital end up just looking at it from outside. However, there are shows that are seen every now and then outside of it, including parades in honour of the sultan or some visiting dignitary, which usually see fireworks being lit. The place is also an impressive site to see even from a relative distance, and lends itself well to photographic opportunities.