The port city of Sur is still the center of dhow building. However, the beautiful harbor and stunning beaches of Sur can be explored not only with the traditional wooden boats.
With the gorgeous beaches in its surroundings, its breathtaking corniche and two historic forts, the city of Sur in northeastern Oman has a lot to offer its visitors.
The Omani city of Sur is located almost entirely on the easternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula 150km southeast of Muscat. Meanwhile, the second half of the route is on a 4-lane highway to the gates of the city. The center of Sur is easy to survey with its few stores, restaurants and hotels.
In the west of Sur, villas bear witness to the new wealth of its inhabitants, while traditionally carved wooden doors can still be found in the residential area between the business center and the dhow yards. The doors with floral motifs bear witness to the East African and Indian influence, and many of them were made in their countries of origin and shipped to Sur disassembled into individual parts.
Also worth seeing are the two pretty white and blue minarets of Sur’s mosque, which rise far above the city’s rooftops.
Tip: If you plan to travel further south by car (such as along the coast to Salalah), you should take the opportunity to stock up on food in the small supermarkets in Sur. Up to Salalah, the shopping possibilities are very modest.
Corniche and Dhows
The long curving harbor promenade along the Sur lagoon runs around the entire city center and is one of the most beautiful in Oman. Its end is marked by a neat lighthouse against the snow-white background of the houses. In the morning, the fishermen come here to unload their catch, and in the afternoon, the Corniche is firmly in the hands of the strolling and football-playing youth.
On the shore road, in an open-air museum, you can also admire the dhows, the traditional wooden boats that Omani sailors carried as far as India, China and Zanzibar centuries ago. The most impressive specimen in Sur’s dhow museum is the Fatah al-Khair, built in 1920, a 300-ton majestically curved vessel that is one of the last of its kind, perched as a monument on a platform on Sur’s shore.
In the shipyards at the port of Sur, the dhows are still built today using production methods as they were 200 years ago. There is no construction plan for the dhows; each one was made according to the intended use or the wishes of the client. In a small visitor center, which is open only sporadically, one can learn everything about the different types of dhau. The Sur Dhow Museum can be visited free of charge throughout the day.
Unfortunately, the demand for dhows has declined sharply in recent years, and many dhow makers have emigrated to the United Arab Emirates, where they continue their craft on Dubai Creek, for example, not least for the tourists.
Fort Sine Silas and Fort Bilad Sur
Sur’s two forts are located on the main road to Al-Kamil. The classically rectangular Fort Sine silas, with its four round towers, is easily identified by its entrance with the ship’s steers. A little further out of town, amid oasis gardens, is the somewhat smaller Bilad Sur Fort, which was only opened to visitors in 1990.
The small village of Al Ayjah is located just opposite Sur’s dhow yards and is one hundred percent dependent on the city. Stores and work for its residents are in Sur, whose only way to get to Sur used to be by ferry boats across the lagoon.
Today, Al-Ayjah attracts visitors not only with its fortress and a small shipyard, but especially with its picturesque winding streets lined with old houses with beautifully carved courtyard doors.
Ras Al Jinz
From Sur, it is worth taking a detour to Ras Al Jinz in the easternmost corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Here you will find the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve, one of two protected areas for sea turtles in Oman.
Besides a beautiful beach, Ras Al Jinz offers the unique opportunity to watch sea turtles laying their eggs at night or hatching in the morning.
History of Sur
Already since the 6th century, trade goods from East Africa were transshipped in Sur, but the trading center at that time was the nearby city of Qalhat. However, this was destroyed by the Portuguese just as they brought Sur under their rule. Sur experienced its greatest prosperity almost a century later.
After the expulsion of the Portuguese and the destruction of Qalhat, Sur took over the role of the leading trading center next to the Omani capital Muscat from the 17th to the middle of the 19th century. Up to 150 ships anchored in Sur’s harbor every day. With the winter consumption, the ships, mostly loaded with dates, sailed south, where they exchanged their cargo for spices, fabrics, millet, coffee, mangrove wood and later also slaves. With the summer consumption, they then went back to Oman or on to India.
In the 19th century, however, the importance of Sur was lost piece by piece. Britain enforced the ban on the slave trade, the traditional wooden dhows were displaced by modern steamships, and the Sultanate of Zanzibar in East Africa was divided. The destruction of the city by Saudi Arabian Wahhabis in 1865 and the opening of the Suez Canal as an alternative trade route with India led to the eventual decline of Sur.