Oman’s arms collection to open for limited viewing

Muscat - 

The historical small arms collection at the Bait ar Rudaydah Fort in Birkat al Mouz may soon be open to public for limited viewing as the Ministry of Tourism is planning to open the fort’s Centre of Excellence. The Bait ar Rudaydah Fort, which has one of the most expansive collection of small arms, has been closed to public for long.

The ministry has agreed to provide funds for a partial opening of the Centre of Excellence. The centre houses 24 of the most treasured matchlocks of the Royal Armouries of the UK, which are on loan to Oman, apart from small arms like abu futilla (matchlock muskets) and the somma (Martini Henry) from around the sultanate.

The entire collection of small arms at the centre was showcased to the delegates who had come from around the world at the conference of the International Committee for Museums of Arms and Military History (ICOMAM) held in Nizwa in October 2012. The delegates vouched for the collection’s uniqueness and variety, said Christopher Roads, who manages the centre at Bait ar Rudaydah.

“Oman's position is unmatched in terms of its vast reservoir of historical military arms,” said Roads, who has been in the country for the last 15 years and has contributed in restoring thousands of small arms, cannons and carriages that form the pride of Oman’s forts and castles. Roads said the conference helped shed new light on Omani firearms. “Till now it was believed that Omani matchlocks found around the coast had Portuguese origin, but that theory could not be verified directly.

However, after visiting Bait ar Rudaydah, one of the experts at the conference suggested that the matchlocks from the coasts could have European-German origin. This could be an interesting feature for a new research.” The matchlock which constitutes the vital link will be on show in the proposed limited viewings. According to Roads, another leading world expert who attended the conference said that one of the rarest cannons of British origin is present in Oman.

“The cannon belongs to the English Commonwealth era, which was from 1649 to 1660. After Charles II came back to power in 1660, he ordered defacing of all arms and cannons which had the conjoined shields of England and Scotland from the Commonwealth era. The cannon in Oman could be one of the only two known to exist from the period.

But this needs to be verified through tests before making a final judgement.” Roads believes that Oman has an amazing collection of muzzle-loading cannons and carriages from more than ten countries. “There are 27 different carriages at Barka Castle and Al Hazm Fort and there are plans to add another six. With Iberian cannon and carriages, the variety in Al Hazm far exceeds those existing in Spain and Portugal combined together.”

Roads said there is immense tourism potential in the sector. “There are about 2mn European and American travellers interested in military history, and if we want them to come to Oman we should preserve the military heritage in its original form.”

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