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Notes on the Geography of Oman: Nizwa

A gap in the Hajars carries highway traffic through the mountains and onto the plateau of Oman proper.  One of the two chief towns here is Nizwa, which, depending on your interests, is an oasis famous for dates, a center of Islamic studies, or the possessor of a massive and elegantly restored fort and palace.

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Oman: Nizwa picture 1

From the top of the fort, looking south over the oasis palms.  The palms are watered by two major falaj (plural aflaj), or irrigation systems.  There are 4,000 of these systems in Oman--counting only the thirty percent that flow perennially.  The most important one at Nizwa is the Falaj Daris, which runs for two miles underground before emerging at the surface to be divided among the date growers.  Some 40 varieties of dates are grown here.  Traditionally, farmers grew several varieties, some bearing as early as June, others as late as December.  Nowadays, however, almost the only varieties being planted are the highly prized yellow khalas or red khunaizi.  The fruit from a single khalas is worth over $300 a year. Growers sell their dates all at once and park the money in the bank.

Oman: Nizwa picture 2

Looking north over the town center. There are banks on both sides of the street, and they're equipped with ATMs.

Oman: Nizwa picture 3

The old market is pretty much a tourist trap.

Oman: Nizwa picture 4

Nearby, however, there's a new (1992) but real market.  These are the delivery bays for fruit and vegetables.

Oman: Nizwa picture 5

The same market in after-hours.  Not what you expected?  Well, that's Oman.

Oman: Nizwa picture 6

We've come to the central tower of the 17th century Husan al Aqor Fort, from which the panorama pictures were taken.

Oman: Nizwa picture 7

Adjoining it is a palace.  Unlike the Lalali and Mirani forts of Muscat, which were begun by the Portuguese, Nizwa Fort was an Omani production, built by Sultan bin Said bin Malik al Ya'arubi about 1650.

Oman: Nizwa picture 8

The handsome color comes from sarooj, a nearly forgotten Omani building material.  Oasis soil is formed into bricks, which are stacked, covered in earth, baked for a week with palm logs for fuel, then crumbled into a powdery cement.  Unlike portland cement, sarooj doesn't crack.

Oman: Nizwa picture 9

In the background is the Friday mosque--its dome reconstructed in 1529.

Oman: Nizwa picture 10

A reminder of Nizwa's reputation for Islamic scholarship.

Oman: Nizwa picture 11

A staircase into the palace.

Oman: Nizwa picture 12

A palace portico, with palm-log joists.

Oman: Nizwa picture 13

An interior room, with small windows to minimize the glare.

Oman: Nizwa picture 14

View from a window.

Oman: Nizwa picture 15

The fort has its own well, carefully labelled like others in Oman.


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