Muscat, the capital city of Oman, has its own unique Middle Eastern charm. Unlike the cities in some of Oman’s neighbouring countries, Muscat retains a notably Arabian feel, both in terms of architecture and atmosphere. Interestingly, the city does not have a centre per se; instead there are a number of districts, which have their own personality depending on their age and location.
The name Muscat means safe anchorage, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that much of the city is orientated around its harbours and sea access. The geographically significant location, and important position as a trading port is also what made the city so appealing to invaders, and Muscat was seized by the Portuguese in the 1580s. Their rule lasted for around 70 years, during which time the Ottoman Turks also tried to invade, but were unsuccessful.
The mountain topography around Muscat means that the city is pooled into a number of areas, and sometimes you must pass over winding roads to travel from one district to another. The older area of Muscat is home to the Muttrah corniche and souk. Whilst the souk is not comparable to the likes that can be found in Marrakech and Cairo, there are still some wonderful fabric shops, and opportunities for antique-hunting.
Muscat, and Oman in general, is still fairly new to organised tourism. The country was very much closed off to the wider world until Sultan Qaboos came to power in 1970. However, the capital does still have a selection of interesting museums, where visitors can learn about the county’s past and heritage. The new National Museum in particular has a good range of in-depth displays and exhibitions.
The glorious Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is the jewel in Muscat’s crown. Serene courtyards and arched corridors lead to the striking main prayer hall. Here visitors can admire the beautiful Iranian carpet, which took four years to weave using the skills of 600 women. The enormous central chandelier also took four years to craft and contains 600,000 Swarovski crystals. Only a short drive from the Grand Mosque is the Royal Opera House. The building’s fairly simple exterior belies the opulence within, and it is well worth a visit during your stay, either to take a tour, or to see a performance.