Tuesday, October 03
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Heritage heights

7 Sep 2023 By HUBERT VAZ

Innovation awaits Matrah Fort – the 16th century military garrison once built by the Portuguese in Old Muscat – wherein an elevator will soon be installed for easy access

The view from atop is stupendous, the rugged interiors are steeped in illustrious history, and with a vast stretch of the Arabian Sea playing in its lap, the iconic 16th century Matrah Fort on Al Bahri Road (Matrah corniche) is indeed the crown of the capital. But there’s one hitch to enjoying its glory.

To access the historic military garrison once built by the Portuguese on a hillock in Old Muscat, one has to climb up a steep flight of stairs that might not be an easy task for senior citizens/disabled persons or tourists well past their prime. Nevertheless, spirited visitors can be seen frequently visiting the fort on weekends and holidays ever since it was renovated and access allowed to the public in 2016.

The good news now, however, is the announcement from the fort management that they are in consultation with Doppler, a Greek company specialising in bespoke lift designs, to provide an elevator that allows comfortable access for visitors of all ages. In fact, the idea had been floated shortly after the renovation was complete around eight years ago, as  part of the redevelopment master-plan for Matrah district.

The renovation work of Matrah Fort had been undertaken by the Department of Renovation and Maintenance, Ministry of Heritage and Culture, which is responsible for conservation projects concerning castles, forts and other historical buildings, about a decade ago.

The renovation was carried out as per the UNESCO code of practice for restoration of heritage structures. It included structural consolidation and refurbishment of the whole body of the fort, besides reinforcement of the stairways leading to it.

The exhibits inside the fort premises include ancient cannons including an English 12 pounder manufactured around 1720 and mounted on a close replica of wooden carriage of a 1710 pattern, nine pounder cast iron English cannons of the 18th century, an 18th century eight pounder Swedish cannon known as a finbanker, six pounder and 12 pounder French post-revolutionary cannons and a 12 pounder English Armstrong pattern cannon with a corroded insignia of George III (1160-1820).

People residing in the area have hailed the decision to install an elevator as it would facilitate access for different types of visitor – residents and tourists of all ages. While some were skeptical about the feasibility of blending modern equipment alongside a heritage structure, most said it was the need of the hour.

Retired director of Bait al Baranda, Malik al Hinai said, “Accessibility, including public services and assistive devices for people with disabilities is a fundamental requirement and a ‘pre-requisite for participation in society. All buildings, new or old, including recreational sites should be required to make reasonable adjustments to a building to ensure that a disabled or an elderly person gets comfortable access. I’m glad Matrah Fort is installing this lift.”

Another long time resident, hailing from Gujarat (India), at Matrah corniche, who have a family home facing the seafront since a few generations, said, “It’s a very good decision to install an elevator at this fort as it will help older persons to enjoy the good view from top without worrying about climbing the stairs. I hope they start work on this project soon.”

Nadeem al Balushi, a popular singer and vintage car aficionado, who had his family home in Matrah for nearly a century, since his great grand father lived there, said, “It will be a good service to provide easy access to the fort but it should not be used by children and able persons who can climb up to the top. It should be reserved for senior citizens who cannot walk/climb due to age or health problems. This is a place where tourists come in large numbers, since Oman is famous for its forts, and all tourists will want to visit this monument if an elevator is available to get to the top.”

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