About 10 years ago, the surrounding villages in Nizwa Fort were on their way to abandonment and ruin. Steep with history, a visit before felt like you are witnessing the end of a powerful city-state, the crumbling houses a disappointing proof that it is destined for decay.
Back then, unless you take an intentional walk outside the walls of the fort, you would barely notice this decay. From the top of the tower, you will see the old and new merging perfectly well together but it was easy to tell which was the old village and which are the new additions.
While I've visited Nizwa souq and fort numerous times within the last three years, I haven't explored what was going on outside the walls of the fort. For an expat living in Oman, it felt like there was nothing to see.
Fast forward to last week, a friend and I found ourselves with nothing to do except drive to Nizwa Fort at five in the morning and agreed to explore the surrounding village.
Taking the narrow road between the fort and the mosque, it was easy to see from the outside how truly massive the fort and its walls are. Walking further down, it was our first time to notice date gardens and a thriving community hidden beyond the wall.
After a 10 minute walk, we find ourselves in a beautiful empty pathway with renovated traditional houses on both sides. It is when it began to dawn on us that many of the abandoned houses were developed and had been transformed into heritage inns.
These inns were unfamiliar to me and my companion. A lot of us who work and live in the Sultanate usually just recognize Nizwa for the fort and the usually lively souq that interest of what goes beyond never really occurred to many of us.
Entering some of these inns opened our eyes to the massive transformation sweeping Nizwa villages. Unsurprisingly, this part of the Sultanate continues to be a tourist draw because of the authentic experiences one can experience while staying in one of the inns, hefty Omani traditional breakfast included.
Further exploration of the backside of Nizwa Fort yielded rows and rows of renovated old houses. Several of the old mud walls were replaced with the more sturdy concrete but painted the same brown that emulates the organic feel of the whole complex.
We counted almost a dozen inns all boasting different traditional Omani attractions. One inn has a beautiful majlis filled with different Arabic lanterns with floor layered with soft carpets and walls decorated with earthenwares.
We passed through Shiwatnah mosque, the ornamental tablet on its wall claiming it's the second mosque built in Oman after the Mithmar mosque in Samail. It dawned on us that that beautiful historic mosque together with the surrounding houses were all inside the Al Aqur wall — one of Oman's ancient walls considered as an architectural masterpiece due to its characteristics.
Some historical data showed that there were 15 towers attached to the wall, all of them given their respective names: Al Mudhaba, Mubarza, Ballag, Alalya, Ghuwaur, Aqur garden tower among others. Had we known about this information before, we would have traced them. That would have taken us the full day. But we reserved it for the next time.
Our final exploration of the area led us to the walls surrounding the Al Bustan Garden Inn. A small crowd started to gather at around 10 in the morning in one of the tight alleyways.
We discovered that one of the walls had been fully converted into a coffee shop with patrons having the option to choose between the street view sitting, the indoor sitting or the wall sitting.
What took our breath away is the genius of how the new was built on top of the old. There was a long pathway on top of the wall, on one side, we can see the beauty of the old village with some of its crumbling old houses and on the other side, the beautiful garden filled with date palms.
There were a lot of developments planned for the rest of the village outside the Nizwa Fort. We can see how it has the potential to become a bigger attraction, much bigger than it is now.
It took us nearly two hours going around and passing through the old alleys of the old village. We saw a few restaurants offering some delicious Omani meals. It was a far cry from the village we saw the first time we visited it years back. Today, that portion of Nizwa, especially during the weekend, has become a destination for families.
And seeing some of the plans and what would happen in the area, we can't wait for it to become a destination worthy of fame that it no longer will be referred to as the village beyond the wall.