Our armchair travels have taken us to Oman, a nation located on the Arabian Peninsula. It has a terrain encompassing desert, riverbed oasis and long coastlines on the Persian (Arabian) Gulf, Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman. Wahiba Sands is known as a region of dunes inhabited by Bedouins.
The capital Muscat is a port city that sits on the Gulf of Oman surrounded by mountains and desert. It has an amazing history and has become quite the modern city.
To get a good look at the people and a feel for the city head for Mutrah Souq. This is the best you can do to see a traditional Arab market housed under modern timber roofing. Shops here sell Omani and Indian artifacts along with antiques, traditional textile, hardware and jewelry. Bargaining is the name of the game here and cash will get you the better deals. At the entrance to the souq you’ll find the traditional coffeehouse from days gone by which has become a locals-only meeting point for elderly men.
Mutrah Corniche attractively stretches along latticed buildings and mosques. It is great to stroll here at sunset when the late afternoon light casts shadows across a serrated crescent of mountains and you can see the lights and lovely fountains. If you prefer you can also take a bike ride.
The restored Portuguese Watchtower sits on a promontory out to the sea, halfway along Mutrah Corniche and offers a wonderful view of the ocean and Mutrah’s waterfront. This is a fantastic place to catch the evening breeze and is decorated with colorful fountains at night. In the evening you can get a free bike hire.
Mutrah is the city’s main port area and here you can feel like you’re in a fishing village. Watch the daily catch being delivered to the fish market. This is the permanent home of Shabab Oman, the country’s impressive fully-rigged training ship. The harbor is also home to His Majesty’s dhow, visiting cruise ships, the high speed ferry to Musandam and assorted naval vessels.
The Grand Mosque is an amazing example of modern Islamic architecture. It was a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos, marking his 30th year of reign. Visitors are impressed with the main prayer hall. You can see the Persian carpet that measures 70m by 60m wide and is the second-largest hand-loomed Iranian carpet in the world.
The mosque accommodates 20,000 worshippers, including 750 women in a private musalla (prayer hall). This is an active place of worship especially for Friday prayers. There are tours available.
The Sultan’s Palace rises up with interesting mushroom pillars in blue and gold. On the island side, an avenue of palms leads to a roundabout that is surrounded by grand royal court buildings and the new national museum. The palace can be photographed from the outside but is closed to the public.
Bayt al Zubair is a beautifully restored house which has become a popular privately owned museum exhibiting Omani heritage in thematic displays of traditional handicrafts, furniture, stamps and coins. The museum is the cultural center of Muscat and hosts many international exhibitions of contemporary art in Gallery Sarah on the museum grounds. There is a modern cafe and a souvenir shop.
The Royal Opera House Muscat was built in 2011. It has a marvelous marble exterior, an interior of inlaid wood and Arabesque designs. You can do some shopping in the adjacent Opera Galleria arcade. Tours are available.
The Ghalya Museum of Modern Art is a delightful little museum which encompasses both a modern art gallery and an old furnished house. The house is wrapped around a tiny central courtyard. The exhibits on display many preserved from the 1950s to mid-1970s are all centered on the private memorabilia of the family who once occupied this house.
Al Jalali Fort guards the entrance to the harbor to the east. It was built during the Portuguese occupation in the 1580s on Arab foundations. The fort is accessible by way of a steep flight of stairs. It was a prison for many years and now has become a museum of Omani heritage. Entrance here is by permit only and you have to apply to the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture. During palace military occasions bagpipers perform from the fort battlements and the royal dhow and yacht sail into the harbor in full regalia.
The National Museum has found its home in a new building right in the heart of Old Muscat. It is right opposite the Sultan’s Palace. This is a contemporary museum with space, light and height to enhance the selective displays that showcase the heritage of Oman. You’ll see giant screens, Arabic brail and high-tech devices that all bring the artifacts to life.
For some relaxation head for Al Riyam Park. This park offers leafy shade and
fine views of the harbor from the giant, ornamental incense burner. Local residents enjoy the small fun fair on weekends. The park is on the path of a popular hike that used to link Mutrah with Muscat proper.
Al Mirani Fort was built around the same time as nearby Al Jalali Fort. It is closed to the public but it looms large over the harbor and contributes to the iconic view of Muscat that has been captured in 19th century lithographs. It has a special place in history as it contributed to the fall of the Portuguese.
Al Bustan Palace sits among lush gardens. Today it is a grand hotel with an amazing domed atrium. It is well worth to see the interior and the location.
The modern Clock Tower has become a prominent landmark.
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