Tarout Castle in Tarout, Saudi Arabia

On the island of Tarout, atop a small hill overlooking the historical neighborhood of Al-Dirah, sits the Tarout Castle, a military fort of three towers. The fort is a testament to a period of Portuguese control in the Persian Gulf in the 16th century, but the hill houses a much older tale spanning 5,000 years.

The Portuguese Empire stretched its control from the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf, eventually reaching the coast of Arabia. The colonists would then fortify their new colonies with defensive forts, such as this one and the Qal’at al-Bahrain in Bahrain.

This Portuguese expansion culminated in a large naval war with the Ottoman Empire over control of the Persian Gulf. After five decades, the Portuguese finally lost control of Eastern Arabia, starting 300 years of Ottoman rule.

The hill has been occupied for over 5,000 years, as archaeological discoveries date to the Dilmun Civilization of the 3rd millennium. The fort may have been built on the ruins of an ancient temple, as many ancient religious statues were found in its vicinity. In particular, many relics have been linked to the ancient Semitic goddess Ishtarut or Ishtar, the patron goddess of her namesake, “Tarut” island.

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