Muscat is the heart of Oman, its vibrant, mystical capital where the ancient and modern exist side-by-side in perfect harmony.
Opened in 2001, The Sultan Qaboos Grand is an iconic and remarkable architectural achievement in Oman. As a contemporary place of worship, it serves as a spiritual landmark for modern Oman, projecting the values and aspirations of the Omani people. As an edifice, it maintains a perfect balance between aesthetics, culture and deeply-rooted Islamic tradition and at the same time pays homage to the civilisations that have occupied Oman throughout the ages.
The mosque occupies a 416,000 square metres site with the main prayer hall taking 6.600 worshippers at any one time, with the capacity to take up to 20,000 on the grounds. In the interior, there are over 35 Swarovski crystal chandeliers, with the main one comprising of 1,122 lamps and weighing 8 tonne, which is simply breathtaking as its suspends from the 50metre high central dome ceiling. The carpet in the main prayer hall took 600 female weavers four years to make and measures 70mx 60m, includes 1,700knots and weighs over 21tonnes.
In it’s entirely The Grand Mosque stands as an assertive symbol of Oman’s renaissance and serenity in the modern world.
Al Mirani and Al Jilali Twin Forts
Like the rest of Oman, Muscat’s buildings never rise more than ten stories - a longstanding decree by His Majesty the Sultan to ensure that the city’s magnificent mountain backdrop is never overshadowed my man-made structures. Rather than skyscrapers, pride of place on Muscat’s skyline are its twin forts of Al Mirani and Al Jilali which set perched atop the headlands on either side of Muscat Harbour. They represent just two of the many forts and watchtowers from centuries past which can be seen on the mountains surrounding the city.
In addition, travellers will enjoy visiting Al Alam Palace - the official residence of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos ,which features a unique design including a stunning forecourt area. The palace sits between the twin forts noted above.
The above attractions all rest within the old city wall, parts of which have been lovingly restored. Travellers can pass through the gates into Old Muscat and marvel at the fact that until 1970, these gates were still locked at sunset in the same manner as had been customary for almost five centuries.
Within Muscat lies an abundance of opportunities to explore Omani history and culture. Beyond the twin forts mentioned above, Muttrah Souk provides insight into a way of life which has remained largely unchanged through the centuries - people still sell frankincense, silver jewellery, and Bedouin handicrafts in its many stalls. A visit to Muttrah is a must-do on any Oman holiday, with fragrances wafting through the air and the sight of Omani men in their traditional dishdashas sharing chatter over cups of qahlwa making for a truly immersive cultural experience.
Elsewhere, Muscat’s streets are decorated with beautiful gardens bursting with colour year-round, a product of significant irrigation fed by desalinated sea water. Date palms feature heavily and are a reminder of the plantations which have been a part of local agriculture for thousands of years, while roundabouts and overpasses are all designed with typical Arabian flair. The streets themselves are immaculately maintained and well signposted.
In the near future, Muscat will be home to the Royal Opera House, a stunning building which will house the country’s premiere cultural events. The city is already home to many fascinating museums unveiling the heart of Omani culture and mapping the nation’s path through history. Favourite museums in Muscat include Bait al Zubair and the simply titled Omani Museum, which also offers a commanding view over Muscat.
Muscat also contains a cosmopolitan mix of restaurants and cafes, headlined by fine dining offerings in the city's opulent five- and six-star hotels. There are also shopping opportunities for those so inclined, with generally favourable pricing compared to Australian and New Zealand stores.
Muscat is a city of history, culture and natural beauty which immediately captures the heart of its visitors. It provides the perfect starting point for a journey into Oman.