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About city Gallery Where to stay

For travellers, Muscat, the capital of Oman, is one of the most fascinating capital cities of the Persian Gulf region. The city’s name is translated as anchorage or the place of “letting fall the anchor”, as cliffs around here tend to drop steeply into the sea. This natural wall turns Muscat into an impenetrable stronghold.

Muscat is an artificial oasis. It soaks up every droplet of what moisture is available from rainfall, the sea, and the depths underground. Oman has almost no rivers or lakes, and is peppered with countless water desalination plants. The capital is often short on water, but never on greenery. On the other hand, the small, but beautiful mountains, located near the city, have many small streamlets with clean murmuring waters. On weekends – usually Fridays – these miniature bodies of water become swarmed with locals ready to relax after a day’s work.

Oman
Photo taken by Luca Nebuloni | flickr.  Oman

In ancient times, Muscat was an important stop on the Incense Road: people from Asia would cross it on their way to get a hold of this fragrant substance in the Roman Empire. However, it became a strategic node only after being occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century. European commercial influence and commodity (especially incense and spice) warehouses could be found here up until the 17th century. Later, the city was conquered by Oman’s Arab sheikh who turned it into his capital.

Recently, the German magazine Focus called Muscat the Anti-Dubai – and for good reason. Here, unlike in the aforementioned city, you won’t see many skyscrapers, enclosed skiing tracks, and other instances of spectacular modern architecture. On the other hand, Muscat is rich in authentic Oriental colours, highly prized by many travellers.

Beach near Muscat, Oman
Photo taken by Martin Dougiamas | Flickr.  Beach near Muscat, Oman

Muscat has maintained its Arab uniqueness: it’s one of the few cities in the Middle East that aren’t permeated by the spirit of contemporary civilization, yet have a high living standard. Tourists will find many interesting objects here: in Muscat, historical, architectural and art monuments are so abundant it’s almost impossible to see them all. In fairness, though, young people sometimes miss the usual entertainment: rather than going to night clubs, discos and noisy bars, of which there are few, people usually spend their free time in nature or – especially – by going diving and fishing (Oman has secured the second place in the world in terms of the popularity of underwater diving and fishing).

By the way, Sultan Qaboos is very attentive to both the capital’s and the entire country’s ecological state. He was instrumental in the establishment of Oman’s many national parks and reserves that breed rare animals and spectacular plants. Here you’ll also find the world’s highest dunes.

The country is known for its fountains, of which there are roughly 500. Two of them – Jalal and Miran – can be found in Muscat. Of religious monuments, the one that attracts the most tourist attention is the Qaboos Mosque, which has the world’s largest carpet, weighing 21 tonnes.

The main neighbourhoods in the city are as follow: Muscat, Mughrah, Ruwi and Al Kurum. The old part of the city, which bears the same name, is famous for the Sultan’s Palace, ancient city walls and an excellent viewpoint.

Supermarket in Muscat, Oman
Photo taken by David Lisbona | Flickr.  Supermarket in Muscat, Oman

Mughrah is the main commercial and residential part of the city. Here you’ll find the most interesting market in the whole of Arabia. On its intricate streets you can buy anything you could ever wish for. Tourists are offered a wide variety of unique gold and silver jewellery, items made from leather and sandalwood, fragrant oils, and antiques. Souvenirs are best bought in the Mutra Market, located in the same neighbourhood. If you want truly original wares made by Oman’s best artisans, however, head straight to Omani Craftsman’s House. Even though prices here are fixed (and a little high), the good are always of high quality and, most importantly, made by local craftsmen.

The neighbourhood of Ruwi is contemporary and commercial, whereas Al Kurum is diplomatic and business-like, as well as home to most of the capital’s hotels.

The streets of Muscat are full of men carrying short and wide daggers on their belts, called khanjar. This cold weapon is depicted on the country’s flag and coat of arms. Women, for their part, can often be seen with blue tattoos on their faces, and rings in both their ears and nose. Rest assured, members of the fair sex are not oppressed here – in Oman, they’re treated completely differently than in other Muslim states. Case in point, the country’s ministers of Education and Higher Education are both women.

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