I slept like a rock last night. But thanks, that has made me get up with much fresher body. And Muscat gave me one little surprise this morning. As I opened the window from my 3-bedroom apartment where I stayed I was amazed with what showed in front of me: golden sunrays of early morning fell on the rugged mountain just nearby. Revealing rough terrain, and its muscular body. What a backdrop! As far as I see there are rocky mountains. It looks like I stay in a mountain-walled city. Marhaban Muscat!
Muscat (Arabic: مسقط, Masqaṭ) is the capital and largest city of Oman. It is also the seat of government and largest city in the Governorate of Muscat. As of 2008, the population of the Muscat metropolitan area was 1,090,797. The metropolitan area spans approximately 1500 km² and includes six wilayats. Known since the early 1st century CE as an important trading port between the west and the east, Muscat was ruled by various indigenous tribes as well as foreign powers such as the Persians and the Portuguese Empire at various points in its history. Since the ascension of Qaboos bin Said as Sultan of Oman in 1970, Muscat has experienced rapid infrastructural development that has led to the growth of a vibrant economy and a multi-ethnic society.
The rocky Western Al Hajar Mountains dominate the landscape of Muscat. The city lies on the Arabian Sea along the Gulf of Oman and is in the proximity of the strategic Straits of Hormuz. Low-lying white buildings typify most of Muscat’s urban landscape, while the port-district of Muttrah, with its corniche and harbour, form the north-eastern periphery of the city. Muscat’s economy is dominated by trade, petroleum and porting.(Source: Wikipedia)
Muscat is clean and has a lot more foliage than you may be used to if you live in Doha, Dubai, or Abu Dhabi. It looks so little like a normal city rather than bustling country capital characterized by myriad skyscrapers, traffic jams or dirty atmosphere. There are no areas in Muscat that define Muscat on its own – each area has its own unique charm and nature. I think you will agree that Oman is one of the most attractive and charismatic cities in the Middle East and once you’ve visited you’ll understand why you’ll want to visit again and again.
Now, if you have only one day in Muscat, what will you do, and see? There are so many things to see and do; with collection of beautiful beaches, busy souks, interesting museum, or stunning sceneries, that one day is obviously not enough. Yes, we have made a big mistake to allocate only one day. Muscat is well deserved to explore more than just one day.
Then we decided to visit the must-see point of interests that enabled us to sample and take a glimpse of Muscat: The Old Town of Muscat (where Al Alam Palace, Portuguese Forts, Museums are situated at), Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, and Mutrah (corniche and souk). We also took a mall tour by sampling Muscat City Center, and then had a day end at Qantab Beach.
One thing that made us not so comfortable enjoying Muscat in this summer was its high humidity. Temperature was around 35-38 C and humidity was between 50-60%. Once we got out of car or air-conditioned building, we were fully sweating and wetted, and our camera lenses were foggy. Nevertheless, Muscat is still sweet despite sweaty.
The Old Town of Muscat
Clean, narrow and winding streets, fringed with charming lamp post and greenery was striking me the first time I drove through the old town of Muscat. It looks a section in the housing cluster of typical upclass complex in Indonesia rather than big city streets. Perhaps, traces of European influences from France and Portuguese. Some streets meander along rocky mountain and some passed through small hill to make a tunnel is necessary. Don’t be surprised if you ended up at road block or single lane leading to port as the old town is based largely around a port that was in history important for trade.
The quiet, atmospheric old town is located at the coast at the eastern end of the greater Muscat area between Mutrah and Sidab.
The area is home for:
- Al Alam Palace. Built in 1972 with facade of blue and gold. Home of Sultan Qaboos. This beautiful palace stands on the head of a natural deep water harbour and is guarded on either side by the twin forts of Mirani and Jelali. Visitors are not allowed to visit the palace, but they are allowed to take photographs at the entrance of the palace
- Muscat Gate Museum. Located in one of the fortified gates of the old city walls and points up the history of Oman.
- The Omani French Museum.
- Bait Al Zubair Museum. A beautifully restored house and features major displays of jewelry, household items and swords/firearms.
- Portuguese Forts (Jalali and Mirani). Twin forts overlooking harbor. The forts were built as prisons in the rocky mountains in 1580 during the Portugese occupation
Bait Al Zubair Museum: 23 36’52.5″N 58 35’22.6″E
Portuguese Forts: 23 37’02.1″N 58 35’37.5″E
Alam Palace: 23 36’56.5″N 58 35’40.6″E
Muscat Gate Museum: 23 37’03.87″N 58 35’12.54″E
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Coordinates: 23 35’1.3″N 58 23’20.4″E
This is the largest and most magnificent mosque in Oman, situated in Al Udhaybah, Muscat. Completed in 2001, the mosque holds more than 15,000 worshippers and includes a library and a center for Islamic teaching. You will not miss this mosque that can be seen on the left on the way to the airport. Open Saturday – Wednesday 8-11 AM. Ladies are however expected to keep their heads, ankles and wrists covered while visiting the mosque. Must sees in the mosque include the Swarovski crystal chandelier, the second largest hand made persian carpet in the world and the marble panelling.
Mutrah – cornice and souk
Mutrah is originally a fishing village and home to the maze-like Mutrah Souk. Mutrah lies between the sea and a circle of hills and has grown around its port, which today is far more vivacious than the old town port. The Mutrah souq has several shops for jewellery, traditional Omani handicrafts and Omani food at reasonable prices. The souq is renowned as one of the best souks in the region.
Mutrah cornice is characterized by gardens, parks, waterfalls and statues. Riyam Park, distinguished by a huge incense burner sits on a rocky outcrop can be found further east.
Tips: The view at the top of ancient watchtower nearby huge incense burner is gorgeous and worth the steep climbs.
Regrettably, we did not take the opportunity to explore the maze of Mutrah Souk that night. Our children were exhausted and demanded urgent dinner. We spent strolling Mutrah Souk walking down the pedestrian and purchased several kuma (Omani hats) tough.
Mutrah Souk North Entrance Coordinates: 23 37’15.23″N 58 33’45.29″E
Coordinates Qantab Beach: 23 33’3.1″N 58 38’34.2″E
Via a spectacular drive through the mountains with remarkable views and some great photostop opportunities, Qantab Beach is worth visited. As I understand from Oman Tourism brochure, the road represents an incredible feat of engineering where whole mountains were removed. Qantab beach have a stretch of sandy beach sheltered by the rocky hills and crystal clear waters. The Oman Diving Center is situated nearby where you can also stay in a barasti; a traditional Omani house/hut.
We just passed by this area on the way to Mutrah Corniche from Qantab Beach. Home to Royal Oman Police Coastguard. Driving Sidab towards Muscat, one climbs a steep hill from which there is a wonderful view of Old Muscat.
We also just passed by at night during our arrival to Muscat from Sohar. As Seeb is a modern town sometimes referred as “the Jewel of the capital”. As Seeb international airport is located here. Unfortunately we had no opportunity to visit a splendid promenade recently completed that stretching several kms along seafronts.
Due to time the following were not visited:
- Al Qurm. Primarily a residential area but has some great shopping and restaurant/café areas. The city’s largest park – Al Qurm Park – located here. The park or rose gardens include a large manmade waterfall, a lake and an amusement park which is a must to visit during the Muscat festival. Al Qurm has also the best beach in Muscat – its palm-fringed beach is a favorite for barbeques.
- Mall: Markaz al Bahja
Thirteen hours exploring Muscat is obviously not enough and we come back to our hotel and slept with mixed feeling: amazed with the charming of Muscat such that our heart left here hence we promised ourselves that someday we’ll visit Muscat (again)!