About 200 kilometres from Muscat is one of Oman’s most well-known as well as most majestic UNESCO World Heritage Sites: this is Bahla Fort. While the country is absolutely peppered with forts and brick palaces, this particular one holds special value to the Omanis, for it is among the most aged of its fortresses. Majority of the forts one sees in the country today are ones that are about two centuries or so in age, which is not unimpressive at all, when you think about it. Yet Bahla outdoes most of them, having been built in the 1200’s. As such, one may expect it to have seen a great deal more of Oman’s historic events than other forts in the area, and a quick review of the country’s history confirms its signal importance to Oman’s record.
The fort is fairly large, and the wall surrounding it is approximately 12 kilometres in length. While it cannot be denied that the emirate architectural style employed for its construction was focused on strength, years still took their toll on the massive structure, especially with the aid of the climate’s corrosive effects. In the 20th century, most people passing by Oman remarked on the fort’s ruination, but there were no steps taken to preserve it until much later, in the late 1980’s.
1987 was the year that saw it rising to prominence and getting restoration and preservation efforts dedicated to it when it was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list as one of the sites in the most danger of being lost. The major restoration projects started around three years after that, with efforts being focused on the eroding walls, which had been gravely compromised by the rains over the years, being made of mud bricks. It took another few years before the site was taken off the endangered sites list, in 2004, and several million dollars had already been spent by then on its restoration. Yet even now, the repair work is not yet done.
Travellers should note that it was not permitted to enter the fort yet even by 2012-or, at least, that entry to the main structure of the entire fortress was prohibited. It was yet being restored in that year, so the general public and tourists were prevented from entering, both to protect the structure as well as to keep the public safe in case of construction and renovation accidents. Even so, Bahla Fort could be seen easily by the tourist even without entering the main edifice. One need only approach it from the desert highway for a peek at the enormous building, which is easily visible for quite a distance. Furthermore, several of the structures attached to the central edifice were already open by 2012, and many tour guides were already bringing their charges to these for a closer look at this magnificent piece of architecture. Many have already remarked on the impressive changes the restoration work had achieved, so those desirous of seeing the insides of the main building are very much looking forward to this heritage site’s reopening.