It is hot outside. Very hot! I have never experienced 48 degrees Celsius before and I don’t like it. My wife and I are in Muscat the capital of Oman, an Arab state on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Despite the heat we are out and about sightseeing because the weather forecast is for this weather to last another two or three months.
Muscat is a spread-out city of mainly low-level white buildings. The port-district with its waterfront road and harbour forms the north-eastern periphery of the city. This is probably the most interesting area for visitors although most of the better accommodation is elsewhere. It is where you find most of the following attractions.
Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace
The Qasr Al Alam Palace is the ceremonial palace of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, ruler of Oman. It was built by Imam Sultan bin Ahmed over 200 years ago and the current Sultan is a direct descendent. The gold and blue palace was rebuilt as a royal residence in 1972. Visitors are not allowed inside even though the Sultan normally lives elsewhere in Oman but you are allowed to take photographs from the outside. The Palace is used for official functions and receiving distinguished visitors.
This is a fort in the harbor of the old city. It was built by the Portuguese in the 1580’s to protect the harbor after Muscat had twice been sacked by foreign forces. Until the 1970s it was used as Oman’s main prison, then was restored in 1983 and converted into a private museum of Omani cultural history, that is accessible only to dignitaries. The fort consists of two towers connected by a wall punctuated by holes for cannons. The building is completely isolated and cannot be accessed from its rocky façade; instead there is a small bridge and stairway
This was built at the same time as Al-Jalali Fort. Looking down over Muscat’s Old Town from its cliff top perch, it is one of Oman’s most striking landmarks, guarding the entrance to Muscat Bay. Unfortunately it is not open to the public but at night the spotlighted citadel appears like a fairy-tale castle. It can be reached by climbing a flight of stairs carved into the rock. There are two circular towers at the ends of the fort and another tower, almost semi-circular in shape, which rises above the rest of the fort and dominates the surrounding landscape.
Overlooking the town is this imposing fort which merges into the cliff on which it sits. The fort was built by the Portuguese during their occupation in the 1580’s.If you are adventurous it is possible to scale the steps that wind up the side of the cliff edge and from the top there are some great views.
With its promenade, markets, cafés and restaurants, this is one of the highlights of the city. The Corniche stretches for three kilometres overlooking the port and clear blue sea. There are gardens and fountains along its length, while at the western end there is a fruit and vegetable market, a fish market and a fishing dhow port.
Towards the east you can see the Mutrah Fort raised high upon the rocks, explore a maze of narrow streets and traditional souks, or visit the Bait Al Baranda Museum.
The main fish hall is full of traders in traditional dress selling everything from shell fish to gigantic tuna. The sellers are very friendly and happy to answer questions and they generally allow photos if you ask first. You can see the boats coming in, the fish spread out on benches and in tubs, and people buying fish for their families.
One of the oldest markets in Oman, dating back about two hundred years is also one of its most interesting. You don’t get a good impression from the outside, as it is hidden behind other development and stretches from a gate facing the Sea of Oman and Mutrah Corniche, to another gate in the city’s old quarter, but inside it is marvellous.
Mutrah Souq is a modern interpretation of old Eastern markets, with narrow winding roofed alleys and central plazas filled with activity. The souq has many shops selling jewellery, traditional Omani handicrafts, clothes and several cafes selling Omani food at reasonable prices. Some shops accept credit cards.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
This is the third largest mosque in the world and non-Muslims may visit from 8AM to 11AM every day except Friday. Ladies are expected to keep their heads, ankles and wrists covered while visiting the mosque. This is the only attraction in this post which is not in or near the old city.
The whole complex is stunning. Highlights are the gigantic Swarovski crystal chandelier, the enormous hand-made Persian carpet which took 600 women three years to make, and the marble panelling.
Elsewhere in the city sandy Qurum beach is one of Muscat’s most popular beaches and is a good place for a swim or just to relax under the palm trees on a sun-lounger. It is an open public beach with coffee shops and cafes close by for refreshments.
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