OMAN - A PLACE STEEPED IN HERITAGE AND CULTURE
There are few places in the world that blend ancient and modern culture as seamlessly as Oman. Here, timeless traditions echo through everyday life as people take advantage of modern conveniences and sensibilities whilst still wearing the traditional dishdasha or abaya. And of an afternoon, many men still gather in local marketplaces to discuss the issues of the day over a cup of hot qahlwa (Arabic coffee).
PRESERVING OMAN’S IDENTITY
The relatively recent development of Oman – where electricity, paved roads, and telephones were only rolled out after 1970 under the direction of current leader His Majesty Sultan Qaboos – has all been carried out with a focus on preserving the country’s unique cultural identity. This makes an Oman holiday the perfect opportunity for a cultural experience where travellers can immerse themselves in an ancient way of life as they discover the real essence of Arabia.
A visit to one of Oman’s many souks (markets) offers an authentic window into traditional Omani life. Market-stalls sell a variety of spices and fragrances, with the most customary of these being frankincense from Salalah – reputedly the world’s finest.
Traditional silver and antique Bedouin jewellery are also on offer, as well as khanjars (traditional Omani daggers) and a variety of other traditional items and keepsakes. The two largest souks are the famous Mutrah Souk and the equally impressive Nizwa Souk, where a livestock market creates a unforgettable spectacle every Friday.
THE PEOPLE OF OMAN
Venturing out of the main urban centres, travellers will find yet more examples of traditional culture as Bedouin farmers herd goats in the mountains and villagers still use the sun and stars to time their allocation of prized water from the remarkable falaj (canal) irrigation systems to water their date palm plantations.
Upon greeting visitors, many locals will offer a welcoming smile and an invitation to sample some dates and qahlwa with them. Many visitors to Oman return home with at least one story describing the genuine hospitality of the Omani people.
FORTS AND CASTLES
More cultural wonders await inside the many forts and castles that emerge from the rock on which they’re built right across Oman. Chief amongst these is Nizwa Fort, a stunningly restored example of Omani fort-building prowess.
It offers commanding views over the district and a museum providing further insight into Omani life over the last 1000 years. Other notable forts and castles worth visiting include Al Mirani and Al Jilali (the twin forts guarding Muscat’s harbour), Nakhal Fort, Jabrin Castle, Al Husn Fort and Taqah Castle in Salalah, each with their own unique style and fascinating story to tell.
FRANKINCENSE AND GLOBAL INFLUENCES
Oman is also one of the few places in the world where frankincense trees are still grown and harvested for their prized sap. The crystalised resin of these trees has been prized throughout history – at one point worth more than its weight in gold – and helped to make Oman the world’s wealthiest nation for many centuries during ancient times.
Of course, this wealth was also due to the nation’s position as a major trading route. Oman has long held ties with other Arabian states, India and East Africa, at one point even extending its rule as far afield as Zanzibar in East Africa. As a result, the modern Omani population consists of a mix of Arab Omanis and Zanzibarian Omanis, with the latter being more populous in the nation’s south. This diversity has helped to create Oman’s unique brand of culture and foster a willingness to welcome visitors from foreign lands with open arms.
HIS MAJESTY SULTAN QABOOS BIN SAID
Another fascinating aspect of Omani culture is the story of the nation’s leader, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. After becoming increasingly concerned about the suffering of his country’s people at the hands of his ruling father, he staged a bloodless coup in 1970 and assumed power.
This marked an incredible turning point in Oman’s history – over the ensuing years, the country has developed from a severely underdeveloped nation with little infrastructure and limited freedom to an advanced society that has learned to treasure its past while embracing its future. The vision of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has ensured that any development has been sensitive to preserving the Omani people’s cultural identity and natural environment, avoiding the overdevelopment typical of the region. For example, there are no buildings over ten stories tall permitted in Oman, by Royal Decree – His Majesty’s logic being that the natural skyline of the mountains surrounding many Omani cities is more magnificent than anything that man could hope to create.
HM Sultan Qaboos began his rule by instituting a series of consecutive five-year plans, each outlining the way forward for a key area of focus such as health care, education, and the development of tourism. The standard of living enjoyed by modern Omanis and the rapid yet sustainable development of the country is testimony to the success of His Majesty’s vision. Across Oman, the people universally adore their sultan and will proudly tell tales of all the things he has helped their nation achieve during his rule.