Key Destinations: Cities & Regions
Presenting an enchanting mix of modern and ancient cultures, Muscat, the capital of Oman, embodies the true soul of Arabia. Voted as the Arab Tourism Capital in 2012, the city is one of the most beautiful metropolitan destinations in the Arabian Peninsula. Muscat gracefully nestles beneath impregnable jagged hills with white and sand coloured mix of classic buildings and modern Islamic architectural lines creating a montage of picturesque charm with no high rise buildings in sight.
Muscat’s origins date back to the 1st Century AD with the city primarily remaining a maritime port and as the country prospered, Oman’s merchant and naval fleet eventually helped create an empire that included East Africa and Zanzibar. During the 15th and 16th century the Portuguese who occupied Muscat for 150 years constructed Oman’s most resplendent fortresses. Built on two serrated hills overlooking and flanking Muscat Harbour, the paired forts, Al Jalali and Al Mirani stand guard over Mutrah Harbour. Guarding the majestic Al Alam Palace, the ceremonial home of the Sultan, the forts resemble mythical citadels from an Arabian Tale.
Muscat’s Old Town is located a short walking distance from the forts and allows visitors to step back in time into old-world Arabia. Much of the city’s rich history and heritage has been preserved including remnants of Muscat’s original clay wall and access gates which for centuries fortified the capital. Easily accessible by foot, visitors to the area can visit Al Zawawi Mosque, Muscat Gate Museum, Bab Al Kabir and the Omani French Museum. Also close by is Bait Al Zubair Museum. This private museum occupies an old Omani dwelling with one of the country’s most extensive collections of weaponry, photography, jewels, traditional dress and an outdoor reproduction of a traditional Oman village with souqs, a burasati house, fishing boat (dhow) and a flowing falaj (irrigation system).
To discover the soul of the Muscat, visitors should immerse themselves in the country’s most famous traditional marketplace: Mutrah Souk. This covered souk has intricate mazes of passageways which envelope shoppers in the sights, sounds, and tastes of an ancient Arabian way of trade. Spices, frankincense, clothing and customary Omani artifacts such as khanjar’s (ornately decorated daggers) adorn the stalls and entice passers-by at every turn. Oman’s legendary silver was once more valuable than gold with the some of the most intricate and hand carved antique pieces ranging in price from AUD50 to tens of thousands of dollars.
Of course, Mutrah Souk also offers the opportunity to seek out the fragrances for which Oman is historically famous. Amouage the signature perfume of Oman is known as one of the most valuable perfumes in the world with most of the ingredients still hand-picked and fermented using some of the most exotic ingredients found in the mountains of Oman. Having a history entwined with stories of the frankincense trade, Oman has long been considered the premiere source for this treasured fragrance along with precious oudh and sandalwood.
Islam’s beauty is splendidly unveiled at Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque situated a short 15mins from Muscat International Airport. Upon entering the Mosque’s massive white-marble courtyard an imposing wooden doorway featuring carved verses from the Koran leads visitors to five towering minarets that symbolise the Five Pillars of Islam and a prayer hall lit by 25 Swarovski crystal chandeliers. A visit to the Grand Mosque is a must to any journey into Oman. The mosque opens from 8am – 11am Saturday – Thursday.
The Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM) is Oman’s premier venue for musical arts and culture. ROH is the vision of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos to create a place that served as a centre of excellence in global cultural engagement. The opera house complex consists of a concert theatre, auditorium, formal landscaped gardens, cultural market with retail, luxury restaurants and an art centre for musical, theatrical and operatic productions. Tours can be organised during the day and tickets (as low as AUD20) to the world class performances are available via the ROH website during the season.