“We continued our voyage for a day and a night and came to the roadstead of a large village on the seashore called Sur, from which we saw the city of Qalhut on the slope of a hill, and seeming to us to be close by. “
Sur is no longer a village but a small and delightful town, I immediately liked its laid-back charm and its lovely old port. Sur is not on the itinerary of most tourists which is both a bit of a blessing and a curse for the town. In Ibn Battuta’s day Qalhat, a few miles up the coast, was clearly the more important city of the two, so he devotes few words to Sur.
View of Sur towards the Gulf of Oman
Sur means ‘fortified wall’ in Arabic so it comes as no surprise to see lots of crenellated walls even on modest, modern houses, having become something of a leitmotif of the city. I decided to visit two of the city’s forts despite the fact that neither of them had been built in Ibn Battuta’s day. In the 18th century, having seen off 200 years of Portuguese rule, Bilad castle was built to defend Sur from land attack from discontented tribes further inland, and Sunaysilah fort was built overlooking the sea to defend from sea-borne attack from everyone else. The former was closed, and I was the only visitor at the latter. A classic square-built fort with a round tower with arrow slits and cannon holes at each corner, it has been extensively renovated and the only complaint is that you cannot get on to the upper levels where the views out over the sea must be delightful.