Mohamed El Hebeishy [email protected]
Published — Wednesday 3 October 2012
Last update 5 October 2012 3:20 pm
Squeezing itself between the mountains and the ocean, Muscat offers some picturesque vistas of urban scenes with rugged mountains in the backdrop. The contrast is eye catching and pretty awesome if you are into photography.
But that line of contrast goes way beyond panoramic views of the city; Muscat is a growing modern city still donning a traditional Arabian attire.
Souq Muttrah is one of the Omani capital main attractions. Muscat’s oldest marketplace thrived in the heydays when the city was a buzzing center of commerce. By all means, Muscat is still an important trading and porting hub; nevertheless, the nature of Souq Muttrah, and what it offers, had differed. Today, Souq Muttrah makes up for a great place to shop for all sorts of souvenirs and memorabilia from Omani daggers with their distinct design, to old coins that trace back to the time of Portuguese rule, and even Omani Halwa; a traditional dessert that mixes starch, ghee, sugar and a dash of saffron. The calorie-laden treat can easily keep you going for hours.
After indulging in a treat of Omani Halwa, a long stroll along the corniche is the best way to start burning those calories. You can visit many of the forts peppering the coastal line.
Al Mirani and Al Jalali are two forts that stand out for their well-preserved states, architectural designs and dramatic views. Both forts date back to the second half of the 16th century when the Portuguese were occupying Muscat. Portuguese were completely driven out of the Sultanate’s capital by the mid 17th century.
Hilltop forts are not the only attraction Muscat has got to offer. You can visit museums and art galleries as well.
Bait Al Zubair is one museum you don’t want to miss out on. The private museum is particularly renowned for its collection of ethnographic artifacts, weapons, and traditional costumes. To get a contrasting feel of contemporary Oman, pay a visit to Bait Muzna Gallery. Occupying a recently renovated three-story traditional house, Bait Muzna Gallery showcases local, resident, and Arab artists in the fields of photography, painting, calligraphy and more. Between its traditional architecture and the contemporary pieces of art on display, Bait Muzna Gallery remarkably fuses the boundaries between the old and new.
Speaking of modern art, Oman plays a pivotal role in promoting the art scene in the region. In October 2011, the Royal Opera House Muscat was inaugurated. It is the third opera house in the Middle East, after the ones in Cairo and Damascus, and the first in the Gulf region. Royal Opera House Muscat hosts widely acclaimed regional and international acts like Magda Al Roumi, Zakir Hussain, and Moscow Classical Ballet performing The Nutcraker. Keep an open eye for the upcoming performance of Verdi’s grand opera Aida by Poland’s Warsaw National Opera.
Your trip to Muscat can’t be deemed complete without visiting Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. One of the world largest mosques, Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque can accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers. It features the world second largest hand-woven carpet weighing some 21 tones and containing some 1,700,000 knots. The carpet, which covers the main prayer hall, measures 70 X 60 meters. It is a piece of art to behold.
New tourist businesses, from fancy hotels to fine dining restaurants, are springing up around the city. While on the accommodation front, world-class luxurious and posh hotels like The Chedi, Shangri-La, and the Grand Hyatt take up the podium, the restaurants scene is still champed by the old and traditional Bin Ateeq. It offers traditional Omani cuisine served at ground level (there are no chairs here); don’t miss out on its tangy seafood dishes. Restaurant choices in Muscat are not restricted to Bin Ateeq. Some of the best fine dining options in town is Ubhar. The sophisticated restaurant comes with an exclusive and chic setting, and serves fused Omani dishes with a contemporary twist.
From time-old marketplaces and forts to contemporary art galleries and a world-class opera house, the Omani capital treads a fine line between heritage and modernity. It treads it very well leaving each and every visitor with a memory of how beautifully contrasting Muscat can be.
How to get there?
Saudi Airlines serves the Omani capital with several flights a week.
Where to stay?
Pamper yourself at The Chedi Muscat; it is worth every penny.
Tel: +968 245 24400