Jabreen Castle – Oman
The mid-day September sun is hot and relentless, but as I step into the shadowy interior of Jabreen Castle, I slip back into a time when air-conditioning did not tax the environment as it does today, but rather, clever building techniques and materials were employed to harness nature. Located not far from the main road slithering through Oman’s arid plains, and connecting Muscat to Al Ain in the UAE, I am glad to take a break and stretch my legs.
Constructed around 1680 by Imam Bil’arub bin Sultan, the third ruler of Oman’s Ya’ruba dynasty, it has witnessed the comings and goings of travelers throughout the succeeding centuries. Built during a time of peace and prosperity, it not only served as a residence for the Imam, but also his capital. Known as a centre for learning, Islamic Law, History, Arabic, Medicine and Astrology were studied within its walls, where the various nooks and crannies offered places for quiet contemplation, study and prayer. On the rooftop where a Qur’anic schoolroom and one of the castle’s two mosques are situated, I shield my eyes against the glare of the sun, and allow them to wander freely over the small oasis adjacent to the castle, and the wide expanse of gravel plains from where they begin at the end of the Akhdar mountain range to where they eventually disappear over the horizon in the direction of the Rub-al-Khali, or Empty Quarter, one of the world’s largest sand deserts (650, 000 square kilometers) that stretches into Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Yemen.
It is pleasantly cool when I duck back into the dim maze-like interior of the castle. The pervading silence is only pierced by the quiet cooing of doves, and my husband’s voice enticing me to plunge even deeper into the warren of rooms. Inter-linked and stacked on top of one another this well fortified royal residence formed a self-contained enclave, and included sleeping areas, reception rooms, a courtroom and jail cells, vaulted stairways with religious inscriptions, a library, and even a room for the Imam’s horse on the upper storey near his personal quarters. My husband’s voice, reading from the information pamphlet, and pointing out the different functions of the rooms we find ourselves in, floats just ahead of me, as I keep lagging behind, pausing for yet another photograph of this beautifully restored castle, which thanks to the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, Jabreen Castle was restored to reflect its former grandeur.
It is perhaps for its colourful painted ceilings with carved wooden beams that Jabreen Castle should be visited for. They imitate the floral motifs of Persian carpets, and I long to lie flat on my back to drink in their intricate beauty, but there are too many to see in our short pit-stop to indulge in such extravagances. In the “Hall of the Sun and Moon”, a reception room for guests, each painted ceiling panel features an ellipse, which is said to represent the eye of God, watching over those inside. It is a room that was designed to minimize the heat and harshness of the sun, while letting in the silvery beams of the moon through the slender windows, covered with lattice screens in patterns composed of mathematical divisions in circles, squares and octagons.
Standing in the bright, yet shady courtyards, it is hard to imagine that life here has ever been other than peaceful, but when Imam Bil’arub bin Sultan’s brother, Saif bin Sultan, laid siege to Jabreen Castle with his massive army, fear must have clung to these walls. It is here that Imam Bil’arub lost his life, but it is also here, where he has been laid to rest, appropriately in the same quiet corner on the ground floor where he said his daily prayers, in a simple chamber with a bare earth covering as its floor.
Saif bin Sultan, his wicked brother, did not reign for long, and once his son took over from him, he moved his capital to Al Hazm, where he built himself a new castle. And so, Jabreen Castle was left to fall to ruins, despite it being occupied briefly by Imam Mohammed bin Nasir in the early 18th century. As I glance back towards the entrance, where two cannons silently watch over the comings and goings of tourists, I am grateful that in modern-day Oman the history of this land is celebrated and preserved.
Visited: September 2015
* GPS co-ordinates: N 22° 54′ 57.59″ E 57° 14′ 55.39″
* Opening times: