Just three towers remain of Tarout Castle; a trio of crumbling turrets perched atop a hill in the heart of Tarout Island that were once part of a regional stronghold. Thought to date back to 5,000 BC, the castle’s time-weathered walls have seen the rise and fall of multiple empires, and are ripe for exploration.
The castle lies off the coast of Qatif, around 30 km from Dammam, and is accessible via a causeway that connects the island to the mainland. The drive from Dammam is an easy one, along a coastal road that winds around inlets and bays and past clusters of fishing boats. The bridge to the island is occasionally closed, but simply explain the purpose of your visit and you’ll soon be on your way.
The best way to tour Tarout Castle is with a local guide who can talk you through its vivid history. The island itself is thought to be among the oldest inhabited sites in the Arabian Peninsula and a former heartland of the ancient Dilmun kingdom, a civilization that ruled Arabia’s trade routes more than 4,000 years ago. Later eras saw the island colonized by the Turks and the Portuguese, a reflection of Qatif’s importance as a transit hub for sea trade.
Inscriptions and relics from the Mesopotamian era have been found in the base of the castle and suggest that its foundations could have first been established in 5,000BC. If so, the Castelo – as it is locally known – was likely the main defence barrier between invading forces and the local people for more than a millennium. Today, its intact walls continue to loom over the nearby community, a sandstone stronghold from years past.
While visiting the castle it’s also worth exploring the surrounding village, which is a labyrinth of passages and walkways that wouldn’t be out of place in Portugal, Italy or Spain. The facades on the houses bear the remnants of carved teak balconies and frames, and arabesque engravings that speak to the island’s protected heritage. Many of the properties are inhabited, and it adds to the experience to see daily life take place among such antiquity.
Tarout Castle is open to visitors after 4 pm. Entry is free, and guides can be hired for a small additional cost.