Ancient towns testify the historical importance of the Sultanate. The old houses and ancient markets (Souq) indicate the trade and cultural connection of Oman and the world. Harat as Sulayf, which is located in Wilayat of Ibri, about 280 km from Muscat, includes a massive fort called As Sulayf Fort. The fort is constructed at the foot of the ‘Shambouh Mountain’ overlooking As Sulayf valley during the reign of the Ya’ariban Imam, Sultan bin Sayf (1123-1131 AH/ 1711-1718/9 AD).
The official sources from the Ministry of Heritage and Culture emphasise that “Harat as Sulayf was supplied with water from a single source which lay some 5 km east of the settlement and was brought into the enclosure via Falaj Shambouh. The channel was built along the narrow strip of ground between the southern banks of the Wadi Sulayf and the foot of the cliff upon which the settlement sits. This provided a degree of control over the Falaj. Popular belief also refers Falaj Shambouh as being considerably older than the settlement. Harat as Sulayf itself lies on the southern edge of the eastern access to the oasis atop a prominent and steep cliff which provides it with a commanding view of the eastern approaches indeed”.
The sources assert that this district was small but it became bigger later on.
“An even phase of expansion occurred in a downhill direction by the construction of a further enclosure, forming a bailey type space at the foot of the hill, known as Harat al Wadi.
Evidently initiated with a view to having better control on the falaj, this space included two separate enclosures.
These contained gender-specific spaces which provided access to water basins fed by the falaj for ritual ablution and general usage”.
Ayoob al Mandhari, a tour guide, said: “Originally the walls surrounding the female bathing area joined with the perimeter walls of Harat al Wadi making the souq a fortified settlement. Both bathing areas had separate accesses from the main enclosure uphill, with the males using the long steps from the gate tower, while the women proceeded through as arched doorway approaching the same tower from the south, close by the souq”.
The fort was built for two reasons; defensive and residential purposes. It has 7 towers located at the site’s highest points. Al Burj, Murab, Al Tawi was used to watch into the surrounding area, Al Mandhari said.
The dwellings of Harat as Sulayf are built from mud brick. Many parts have decorated roofs.
The decorations are a feature can be found in various Omani forts and castles.
The visitor to the castle can find many rock inscriptions. These include Arabic poetry and social messages. The site has also a big mosque and traditional market (Souq) which is comprised of more than 10 shops. The fort has also a prison which was used for to punish hardcore criminals.
TEXT & PHOTOS BY YAHYA AL SALMANI