Samad A'Shan, Al Mudhaibi 

Hozam bin Falah fort in spectacular ruin. cannon and large quantities of cannon shot can be found within Al Akhdar's tower (right) — Pictures by Abdullah Ibrahim al Shuhi


The niyabat of Samad A'Shan (Wilayat of Al Mudhaibi) has a rustic appeal that sits oddly with the bleakness of the surrounding mountainous countryside. Sprawling date palm groves dotted with fruit orchards, all nourished by bountiful streams, add a rich verdancy to an otherwise lacklustre landscape.Indeed, a stroll through its tranquil, canopied gardens can be assuredly therapeutic.Natural splendour apart, the niyabat's many villages are also rich in antiquity. These villages lie along the fringes of the mighty wadi Samad that runs several hundred kilometres before emptying into the Arabian Sea at Mahawt.Perhaps, the best known of the niyabat's towns is Al Akhdar, so called because of the luxuriant date palm growth around.It has the ambience of a tranquil oasis hamlet, yet it harbours a rich history evident in the number of picturesque mud houses and crumbling fortified mansions scattered through the town.Standing forlorn in the midst of the old quarter of the village lies what remains of the famous Al Akhdar fort.It was once a splendid edifice, with a formidable tower of stone and limestone plaster, and a total of 17 rooms.Local residents who have studied the fort's antiquity say it was built by Khalfan bin Mohammed bin Abdullah al Busaidy, one of two brothers who came from Adam, some 261 years ago. Over the decades, control of the fort passed into the hands of a succession of tribal chieftains.It continued to be in use until 1975 when the ravages of time and nature began to take their toll.

Much of the fortified mansion gradually collapsed and, one night, four years ago, an upper chunk of the main tower came crashing down as well, villagers say.Today, Al Akhdar fort lies in picturesque ruin, standing incongruously amid the modern concrete houses that have sprung in its shadow. Some mud houses that once formed part of a prosperous neighbourhood in the heyday of the fort still stand cheek-by-jowl with modern dwellings. Remnants of the mud wall that once ringed this thriving neighbourhood still remain. So does the old Islamic-style portal which guarded access into the neighbourhood.Barring the odd tourist, these days only children venture into the structure's crumbling precincts.

Fruit orchards and burbling falaj offer much tranquillity in Al Akhdar town
Because of its precarious condition, only the intrepid with the nimbleness and surefootedness of a mountain goat should consider it prudent to venture into the tower.Inside the structure, the tower's rich antiquity is plainly evident. A splendid domed room on the first floor yields an ancient cannon lying amid heaps of cannon balls.

Bait Hus'n A'Rowdah fort, a splendid edifice in Samad A'Shan

On the domed ceiling is an inscription in a non-Arabic script. Motifs and geometrical designs along the rim of the ceiling also point to the tower's rich history.

A spiral staircase built into the wall of the tower leads one to its battlemented summit which overlooks the expanse of the countryside.

It also offers views of resplendent sunsets or striking vistas of the Samad A'Shan plain, sitting in the bosom of the mountains.

Lying amid the debris on the summit is a cannon apparently made in 1803 and inscribed with the British royal insignia.

It is said that a large cache of cannon shot lies hidden away in giant pots on the tower's summit.

Gun ports and turrets ensured total defence of the structure in the face of any enemy onslaught.

According to a local resident, a secret well built beneath the fort, was covered by a false floor to entrap enemy attackers.Falaj al Akhdar, once pivotal to the ancient neighbourhood's existence, still courses through the surrounding village. Skirting past the ruined fort, it nourishes scores of glorious date orchards and mango and lemon gardens.

For the last 65 years, the falaj has been in full flow, say residents, after an earlier four-year drought which all but killed Al Akhdar's date farms.

Just three kilometres from Al Akhdar lies the picturesque oasis town of A'Rowdah.

Its most famous landmark, Bait Hus'n al Rowdah fort, rises majestically above the verdant countryside.

A dirt track snaking along the bed of a dry wadi brings one to the imposing edifice at the entrance to A'Rowdah town.

Al Akhdar fort's main tower

An elegant structure built atop a rocky outcrop, the fort was renovated by the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture in 1988. Its caretaker says the fort was built in the 1900's at the end of the reign of the Nabhani dynasty.It was built by the citizens of A'Rowdah. Down the years, it underwent major structural changes and lost the original number of towers as well. Today, the fort has two watchtowers, the taller of which stands independent of the rest of the structure, but, from afar, looks part of it.Each tower has three rooms. The main structure is made up of six rooms and a storeroom. Standing sentinel on rocky hills nearby are several other smaller watchtowers. For foreign tourists and local visitors alike, Bait Hus'n A'Rowdah is one of Al Mudhaibi's better-known tourist attractions. A visitors' book maintained at the fort is a testament to the number of tourists who come here, among them, members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Sultanate.Elsewhere around Samad A'Shan are many other gems of antiquity. Vying for attention on another rocky outcrop in the distance is another impressive edifice called Bait Awlad A'Thaneen.It was built by local residents around the same time as Bait Hus'n A'Rowdah. One of its two towers has since collapsed.Samad village also has its share of historical treasures.Overlooking the sprawling date tree plantations is Samad fort, otherwise called Husn al Khubaib. Although not of great antiquity, it was built on the debris of early fortifications. It was used by the presiding wali well into the 1970s and thereafter went into ruin.Deeper into the village stands the Hozam bin Falah fort, billed as the biggest and oldest of all forts in Samad A'Shan. Currently in a state of spectacular ruin, this once grandiose structure, was two-storey high with four towers and seven water wells. It began collapsing some 65 years ago, it is learnt.Part of Samad A'Shan's rich historical heritage, say local officials, is linked to the rule of the Nabhani family which governed Samad A'Shan for a period. Tribal conflict begot the rest.


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