HISTORY & TRADITIONS

A KALEIDOSCOPE OF HISTORY, LEGENDS AND ADVENTURES

Oman is a land of rich history and fascinating culture that dates back well over 5000 years.

 

RELICS & LEGENDS

The relics of one thousand forts and watchtowers stand as sentinels over Oman’s now peaceful landscape. While many have been left in ruins, a great number have been beautifully restored to their former glory and are open for visitors to explore. Nizwa Fort, perhaps Oman’s most famous heritage landmark, is a great example of this. Surrounded by the equally alluring Nizwa Souk, this impressive monument to Omani architecture features mazes of passageways linking rooms of museum displays beneath its grand central tower.

The central tower of Nizwa Fort (Photo courtesy of Robert La Bua).
The central tower of Nizwa Fort (Photo courtesy of Robert La Bua).

Venturing further back into history, sites such as Sumhuram and Ubar – thought by many to be the famed Atlantis of the Sands – beckon visitors with their echoes of an ancient way of life.

Of course, modern Omani culture still carries many of the traditions of bygone eras. It remained effectively underdeveloped until 1970, when His Majesty Sultan Qaboos ascended to the throne and began what many called the “Blessed Renaissance”.

Oman is often referred to as the ‘true Arabia’ because its ancient culture has been so beautifully preserved. Here, you’ll still find souks selling silver and frankincense, cattle and pottery, in the same way as has been customary for thousands of years.

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The covered laneways of fascinating Mutrak souq, Muscat.

The Omani people themselves also have a well-deserved reputation for being amongst the world’s most hospitable. Their smiling faces testify to their eagerness to share their unique culture with visitors, and most travellers to Oman will have at least one story of remarkable local hospitality.

A traditional Omani welcome over strong, hot coffee and dates.
A traditional Omani welcome over strong, hot coffee and dates.

It is this warm, peaceful culture that has created a society that consistently ranks Oman highly on the annual Global Peace Index, as well as being named the world’s 9th safest tourism destination by the World Economic Forum in 2015.

 

PREHISTORY

Recent archaeological discoveries suggest that humans settled in Oman during the Stone Age, more than 10,000 years ago.

The beehive tombs at Bat date back to the third millennium BCE.
The beehive tombs at Bat date back to the third millennium BCE.

The Babylonians and the Assyrians settled in Oman because they wanted to control the trade routes connecting Asia with the Mediterranean Sea.

 

ISLAM IN OMAN

The early spread of Islam in the 7th Century saw the first mosque built in Oman - the Al Midhmar Mosque that stands to this day in Wilayt Samail.

The majority of Omanis practice the less widespread form of Islam known as Ibadism. Ibadism places great importance on pacifism, tolerance and respect for people, cultures and creeds. Ibadism is only found in Oman, Zanzibar (once an Omani colony) and some small enclaves of Tunisia and Algeria.

Non-Muslims have historically been able to freely practice their own religions openly in Oman.

 

THE PORTUGUESE IN OMAN

In 1507, the Portuguese arrived in Oman to shore up supply lines and trade routes back to Portugal. In 1650, they were driven out by the Omani navy under the leadership of Sultan bin Saif Al-Ya'arubi.

Interestingly, Oman is the only ex-Portuguese colony where there is no remnant Portuguese spoken. An indication, some say, of the strength of Omani tradition, culture and national pride.

 

PEAK EMPIRE

Due to its strategic location on some of the world's most lucrative trade routes, the country - in particular the southern region - became one of the wealthiest in the world. The flourishing economy was further fuelled by trading in highly sought after Arabian horses and the world's finest frankincense.

Oman reached the height of its power in the mid-19th century with Omani influence spreading all the way to Zanzibar in East Africa - where a second Omani capital was established - and across the Gulf to parts of Persia, Pakistan and India.