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Sohar, the old trading port on the road to India

Updated on 09.06.2018

Important trading city on the road of the Indies, Sohar was a port of essential release from Antiquity until the sixteenth century that inspired the Persian fable of Sinbab the Sailor. Today, only its fort testifies to the past splendor and the sleeping white city does not retain its visitors more than a few hours. In the north of the city, the rapid development in the early 2000s of a commercial port and the return to production of copper mines in the region in the 80s try to put Sohar on the map of modern international trade.

View of Sohar Fort, Sultanate of Oman ©Odyfolio

A flourishing city from antiquity to the 16th century

Port city of the Gulf of Oman, Sohar is located in the region of Batinah, known for more than 5000 years for copper mines wadi Jizzi. Sohar would have taken its name from a descendant of the prophet Noah, Sohar bin Adam bin Bin bin Noah, who in the sixth century would have converted the city to Islam.

It is one of the oldest cities in the region that since ancient times was on the trade route between East and West. The Arabs then took an important place in the exchanges. In the course of its history Sumerians, Persians, Indians, Africans, Greeks, Jews, Turks, Italians, Portuguese and Dutch, British and French used the port. Ships from China, Ceylon and the Persian Gulf were refueling in Sohar in freshwater and fruit. They traded stuffs and spices that went on caravans bound for Arabia and Egypt. Yemen perfumes and incense could also be loaded as well as ivory, wax and precious woods such as bamboo, teak or sandalwood. The ships were returning to Europe along the African coast by Madagascar and the Cape of Good Hope.

In the 10th century Sohar was described as one of the most important cities in the region, densely populated, flourishing and exquisite to live. Wheat and barley were grown and sorghum and dates were exported. The city crossed by a freshwater canal stretched along the busy coast of many warehouses, souks and the particularly high minaret of its mosque overlooked the city.

In 971 Sohar was destroyed and pillaged by the Bouyides who since Baghdad ruled over part of Iraq and Persia. The city is rebuilt and in the twelfth century there were up to 12,000 houses made of clay bricks. Then in the fourteenth century it fell under the domination of the emirs of Ormuz. Important defensive link of the region, the castle of Sohar will be erected at their initiative.

In 1507 the Portuguese Afonso de Albuquerque seized Sohar and his fort without much difficulty. This will be the beginning of the decline of the port overshadowed by Muscat because of the commercial blockade orchestrated by the Portuguese. After their departure at the end of the 16th century, Sohar will not be able to regain its former rank and will gradually decline.

View of the coast in Sohar in Oman ©Odyfolio

Sohar today

You can go to Sohar from the oasis of Al Ain - Al Buraimi along the wadi Jizzi, following a millenary trade route formerly watched by watchtowers where you can admire the remains restored at the top of the ridges. Today it is the modern highway number 7 which travels 120 km in one hour and fifteen minutes. To count according to the affluence twenty to thirty additional minutes to pass the Omani border post of Az Zihaymi. Particularity in this zone, the Omani and Emirati border posts are not contiguous but distant of about forty kilometers, which constitutes a border zone in which the visitors are exempted of Omani visa and expenses of exit of United Arab Emirates. So if you are coming from Al Ain and going to Sohar and the Omani coast, clearly specify your destination at Hili border post at Al Ain in order to have your papers cleared.

From Dubai via Hatta (Highways E44 and 05) the same border feature arises. You can also come to Sohar from the emirate of Fujairah (highways E99, E108, 01), or from Muscat along the coast (Highway 01) where Sohar will be announced by a double giant arch.

At the time of writing this article, the emirate's exit fee was 35AED and the Omani visa fee of 5OMR for a maximum of ten days. As checkpoints are common in these border areas, always have your passports, driving license, car papers and insurance certificate handy with clear coverage for the UAE and Oman.

To see, To do in Sohar

The fort and museum (currently in restoration) is Sohar's only notable landmark and only remnant of its glorious past. The old town with white houses and souks praised by some tourist guides rarely welcomes foreign visitors. At most you can from the fort admire the golden dome of the adjoining mosque, then walk along the straight beach to the north to see at sunset fishermen storing their nets near the fish souk.

Large square tower of Fort Sohar, northern Oman ©Odyfolio

Mosque of Sohar, Sultanate of Oman ©Odyfolio

Sohar Beach in Oman ©Odyfolio

Hotels and restaurants

You will find two international hotels in Sohar: the Crowne Plaza away from the city on the highway to Al Buraimi and the Radisson Blu closer to the city center. In a similar category, the Sohar Beach Hotel has the advantage of being on the beach. Count a budget of 500AED to 700AED per night for these establishments four stars. For a budget below 300EUR, a few other hotels with varied comfort. And since we can not conceive of staying more than one night in Sohar, or spending money unnecessarily in medium-quality establishments, why not stop for 200AED at Al Wadi Hotel (tested by our team) who has a decent breakfast, a dessert entree dish at 8OMR and serves alcoholic refreshments. For an apart-hotel, try Al Thuriah Hotel Apartment: without being exceptional, it can be a good economical choice if you are traveling with your family.

If the very local restaurants of the city center do not tempt you, you can have lunch in the hotels mentioned above, or in the fast food around the Lulu shopping center (roundabout next to the Al Wadi Hotel) .

Maps of Sohar

Location of Sohar in Oman on the map of the Persian Gulf region ©OpenStreetMap contributors

Map of the city center of Sohar (Oman) with the location of the city fort (orange landmark) ©OpenStreetMap contributors

Map of Fort Sohar, Northern Oman ©OpenStreetMap contributors

Notes and references :

History of Silk, Ernest Pariset, Volume 2, Durand, 1865 -

Relation of travels made by Arabs and Persians in India and China in the ninth century AD, Abū Zayd Ḥasan ibn Yazīd, Arabic text printed in 1811 by the late Langlès, pub. with corrections and additions and accompanied by a French translation and clarifications by Mr. Reinaud -

Seafaring in the Arabian Gulf and Oman: People of the Dhow, Dionisius A. Agius, Routledge, Dec. 2012 -

Sohar and Omani Seafaring in the Indian Ocean, Andrew Williamson, Petroleum Development (Oman) Limited, 1973 -

A concise guide to the Batinah Governate, Ministry of Tourism, Al Roya Press and House Publishing, 4th edition, April 2012 -

Port of Sohar website, http://www.portofsohar.com, accessed 19 Oct. 2013 -

Website Mawarid mining, http://www.mawaridmining.com, accessed 19 Oct. 2013 -

Oman Airports website, http://www.omanairports.com/regional_airport_sohar.asp, accessed 19 Oct. 2013 -