Al Hazm & Iberia
There is strong evidence that Al Hazm was designed in the early 18th century not simply as a palace to impress all who saw it but as a working display of the most impressive cannon then available anywhere.
So its proportions and size as a palace perfectly suited its strength as a fortress dependent upon its incredible cannon. Indeed though the Omanis, on capturing the cannon from the Portuguese in East Africa, defaced many of the ornamental panels cast into their barrels, they still have an aura of majesty and power.
In justice to their appearance we in HAEF have mounted them on carriages very carefully researched in Portuguese and Spanish archives - as they largely date from the period of the conjoined crowns, from 1580-1640 - to show the immense variety of the different and evolving carriages. However, we have done this very much aware that at the time of their serious use in East Africa they were probably mounted on yet a different type of carriage.
By an extraordinary chance in my exploration of a casual remark of an earlier visitor I went to see the storeroom of the Archaeological Museum in Madrid. And by another remarkable chance coincided with the rare visit of the only man who had any idea of its content as well as authority to admit me. In our intensive search through countless fragments of stone and masonry dating back to the ancient Greeks I found, in an obscure corner the totally incongruous but most welcome sight of small gun carriage of a type virtually unknown in an Iberian context.
I was looking at and photographing, measuring a gun carriage mounted only on two large and very distinctive trucks or wheels. Much later, investigating the content of a small storeroom at Al Hazm, I found a very old truck which, when measured, was by extrapolation exactly correct for this very rare pattern of gun carriage made to fit the two-ton cannon at Al Hazm.
Clearly some, at least, of these cannon had been dragged on their original carriages all the way up to from the coast to be placed in the new and immense castle at Al Hazm. In time the carriages had rotted away and been replaced by copies of British naval gun carriages which, in turn, had disintegrated so that the cannon, when we first saw them, were lying on the ground with no carriages.
This is the story behind Al Hazm’s Iberian tower, that behind its ‘British’ tower is even more extraordinary but will need to wait another opportunity to recount! And in the meantime we, in HAEF, are preparing the Centre of Excellence for Historic Small Arms in the Bait ar Rudaydah at Birkat al Mauz for public admission.
Dr Christopher Roads
Dr Christopher Roads is managing director of Historic Arms Exhibitions and Forts LLC (HAEF)