Jabreen Castle is a beautiful 17th century historical castle in Oman, around a 2h drive from Muscat, in the Al Dakhiliyah Governorate. The castle’s name can also be spelled Jabrin or Jibreen, as it often happens with this Arabic letter which has a few written interpretations in English. I went with the spelling that is used in the castle itself.
Check this video out to have a feel for what Jabreen Castle looks like:
History of Jabreen castle
Jabreen Castle was built by Imam Bel’arab bin Sultan Al Yarubi, the same Imam who expelled the Portuguese in 1650 and expanded Nizwa Fort to its current state. If you visit both Jabreen Castle and Nizwa Fort, like I did, you will see the many resemblances between the designs and structure of the two. During his reign, Jabreen Castle was the center of power in Oman, which moved from Nizwa, but it returned to Nizwa at the end of his rule.
Frankincense and trade brought peace and prosperity to Oman at the time and this wealth was used to build stunning monuments like Jabreen Castle or expand on existing ones. We can thank him for his contributions to Omani heritage which we can visit today. The peace that was enjoyed at the time also made this building a castle rather than a fortification like the Nizwa Fort, meaning that it was not built with the high walls that were used for protection and defense. As a result, there are more open spaces, courtyards and even a school on the rooftop, although plenty of defensive structures were incorporated in its design.
What to see at Jabreen Castle
Our driver for the day dropped us up at the castle’s entrance and, armed with an audio guide, we explored the castle on our own which was great.
The place is so beautiful, rich in heritage and art that we spent 1.5h walking along the many rooms in the three-story buildings, the courtyards and the two towers.
The audio guide alone was more than 30min long so if you add a bit more time to contemplate and admire the place and to take some photos it is easy to spend at least an hour in the property.
Inside, expect to find some exhibits talking about the castle but there are not as many as Nizwa Fort. You can read about my excursion to Nizwa Fort here. The audio guide is the one which delivers the insights so I paid attention.
Imam Bel’arab bin Sultan Al Yarubi made Jabreen Castle a beautiful place with pretty wall paintings, amazing wood ceilings with colourful designs vividly preserved until today and even windows which play on the moon and the stars. Jabreen Castle is a true work of art.
The Imam enjoyed a time of peace until 1692 when his brother, with a large army, expelled him after a siege of the castle. It is believed that, as he realised death was his only way out, he prayed to Allah for it and his wish was granted. His body is buried in the castle, in a corner that was his favorite place of prayer.
here are a few rooms and spaces in Jabreen Castle that are specially remarkable:
1. The Sun and Moon Hall
2. The staircase
3. The Date storeroom
The Sun and Moon Hall is fantastic. The gentleman at the entrance who gave us the audio guide caught my attention when he said:
“Do not miss the Sun and Moon Hall, if you are tired and don’t want to see it all, make sure not to skip that room”.
He was indeed right and, not that I wanted to skip any room, but I was eagerly going through the various rooms and spaces looking forward to finding it after hearing such an intriguing name.
The Sun and Moon Hall was the Imam’s Majlis, the meeting room where he would receive important guests. The room has 14 windows in two rows, half of them are made to face the sun and half the moon. This way, the room always had light, either from the sun or from the moon. It also stayed cool, as it was constructed following the principles of wind towers that are the signature natural air conditioning across the Middle East.
I visited in the winter so I cannot testify to their efficacy but I have seen wind towers in many countries, particularly in Sana’a, Yemen where towering pink sand UNESCO-listed buildings give the city its unique design. The ceiling beams and walls also had painting of the God’s Eye which watches over anyone inside.
The staircase leading to the Imam’s rooms and suites is also an incredibly beautiful part of Jabreen Castle. It is decorated on both walls and ceiling with paintings and motifs.
There are some defensive elements there too, including a plank on one of the lower steps that would make noise when an intruder stepped on it. The ceiling is decorated with verses of the Quran which any visitor would have to recite before visiting the Imam. The calligraphy is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen and is representative of the Imam’s love for art.
The date storeroom, so typical of all Omani constructions of the time, is located on the ground floor. Many tones of dates were stockpiled in the room in preparation for a siege. As the weight crushed the dates inside the sacks, date juice would seep out and run slowly through the channels on the floor to the collection jars, ready to be heated for use in murder holes or for consumption in times of peace.
These are some of the facts, stories and anecdotes that were shared in the audio guide of Jabreen Castle.
1. The castle was the palatial residence of the Imam in times of peace but it started as a multistoried garrison that later evolved when the royal rooms were added.
This is the reason for the two towers that are joined by two courtyards. The garrison is still visible today and you can spot the defensive elements that were built in, like the murder holes, slits above doors from where the soldiers could watch any enemy or pour hot oil over them. There were also four secret passageways under the floor from where the soldiers could observe the discussions held by the Imam and attack if threats were heard. The two towers of the castle provides 360 degree firepower from where it could be protected from attacks.
2. The ceilings of Jabreen Castle are some of the most remarkable elements of the castle. There are three types of ceilings in Jabreen Castle: flat, vaulted and bare vaulted and they are mostly covered in intricate paintings with vivid colours.
8. The dining halls served many meals to many guests at any point. The fish and meat dishes were served in silver platters so heavy and large that two men were required to carry them. The food was brought from the kitchen through a secret passageway. Cardamom spiced coffee (typical Arabic coffee I so love), dried fruits and dates were offered to visitors.
9. The Imam was the final appeal over all sorts of matters including anything related to religion. A courtroom can also be found in the castle where he would decide the fate of the prisoners and convicts. Those found guilty, had to bend over as a sign of repentance to get through the hole on the wall to the cells.
10. There was a room in the upper level for the Imam’s horse. Great importance was placed on horses at the time of the Imam and they were central to any celebrations, apart from being a means of transportation. It is said that the Imam had 90,000 horses in his army and he was known for the breeding of horses. Even Marco Polo referred to the trade of magnificent horses from Oman as significant during the area.
3. There is a school, or madrasa, in the castle which was paid for by the Imam and produced many scholars and theologists. He was a sponsor to many artists and intellectuals of the time. The rooftop was used as a spillover classroom when the students overgrew the school and was the site for the castle’s two mosques.
4. There is little in the castle that was made of wood so it was hard for any attacker to set it alight.
5. You can see the toilet and bucket shower that the Imam and his family used which were fed by a special well only accessible to them.
6. The castle has a Whisper Room where the Imam held his most secret and confidential discussions, especially towards the end of his rule when war and demise were feared.
7. The castle provided a safeguard over the area where the caravan routes of the time passed through. The commanding position, and the views over the plains made it impossible to organise a surprise attack. It also gave the castle a superior advantage over the exposed attackers below.
Other things to see near Jabreen Castle and suggested itinerary
f you are making the journey to Jabreen Castle you should make sure to visit some of the other places of interest around Nizwa like the Nizwa Fort, UNESCO-listed Bahla Fort and Nizwa’s goat market and souk. You will not be able to visit it all on the same day if you go on Friday because they all close by 11am, but it is worth it to see the goat market.
Alternatively, you can skip the market and go on any other day of the week to see them all in a day’s trip from Muscat.
If you go on a Friday, I would suggest the following itinerary around Nizwa:
1. Depart Muscat very early at around 6,30am, so you can be there by 8,30am.
2. At 9,15am head to one of the three places as you will only have time to visit one:
a. Nizwa Fort
b. Jabreen Castle
c. UNESCO-listed Bahla Fort
3. At 11am go back to the market area and visit the souk area around it, including the date market, the pottery stalls and the labyrinthic alleys of the spice market.
4. Have lunch in the area and drive back to Muscat.
You would have to go back for the rest of the sites on another day.
If you go on any other day of the week, this is what I would suggest:
1. Depart Muscat early at around 7am, so you can be at Nizwa Fort by 9am. Visit this stunning fortification and all its exhibits which are very enlightening and filled with learning about that time in Oman.
2. At 10,30am head to Jabreen Castle and explore the beautiful castle.
3. At 12noon head for lunch at a nearby restaurant. Your driver will be able to suggest a place and if you are driving yourself, I suggest Ayadina Restaurant. We ate there and their traditional slow-cooked Omani rice and meat dishes are great, they are known for goat but if you do not fancy the fatty meat, the chicken was also great. There are also plenty of international options if you prefer including Indian dishes, pizza and all sorts of other dishes. You can park the car right in front.
4. After lunch, at around 2pm, head to Bahla Fort, Oman’s only UNESCO-listed fort.
5. The fort closes at 4pm when you can either head back to Muscat or make a final stop at Misfat Al Abriyyin, a quaint small town that feels like an oasis in the desert.