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Muscat Cruises

Muscat, Oman

About Muscat, Oman

Capital of the nation of Oman, Muscat, sometimes simply called the “walled city,” enjoys a stunning setting between the Arabian Sea and the rocky Western Al Hajar Mountains. A rich and romantic canvas of low whitewashed buildings watched over by traditional dhow fishing boats bobbing in the harbor, the city is also a trove of royal and Islamic treasures.

Since the 1st century, Muscat has been a trade crossroads between East and West. The Portuguese held sway over Oman from Muscat for 150 years, as the city’s two preserved forts, Al Jalali and Al Mirani, attest. Twice during this period, the Ottoman Turks tried to wrest control from the Portuguese. Finally, Omanis forced the colonial power to surrender in 1650. In the late 1600s, Oman competed with Portugal and Britain to control the Arabian Peninsula region. In the 1800s, its naval and military prowess increased and it gained holdings as far away as Iran and Pakistan. With an ever grander vision for expansion, the sultan moved the Omanian capital to Zanzibar, off the coast of today’s Tanzania. Muscat resumed its place as capital after Zanzibar became an independent sultanate.

Muscat Lifestyle and Culture

To the people of Muscat, architecture is identity. Back in the 16th century, as Admiral Afonso de Albuquerque approached the city from the sea, he noted in his journal a “very elegant town with very fine houses.” Much of the city remains as the admiral described it, with few high-rise buildings and an impeccable layout with few variations from orderliness. Indeed, tradition lives among the whitewashed, low-lying structures of Muscat as much as it resides within its residents.

Even the city’s leisure activities call on a rich Omani heritage. At packed stadiums, Arabian horses vie for racing crowns, then clear the track for camel racing the next day. Falconry is also popular, an art form that has evolved dramatically since it was adopted centuries ago as a means of hunting in a harsh desert environment. Some seafaring types enter their dhows, the narrow wooden vessels that have long been used as fishing boats, into nationally recognized racing contests.

Amid all its long-held traditions, Muscat is also a progressive and forward-thinking city, with a Royal Opera House opening as recently as 2011 and galleries showcasing the vibrant and energetic works of local artists, sculptors and conceptualists.

Muscat Sights and Landmarks

Perhaps Muscat’s most impressive sight is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, named for the beloved leader who has bolstered the country’s economy. Opened in 2001, this masterwork is a dazzling expanse of white marble, intricate wooden panels and magnificent stained-glass windows. A remarkable 45,000-square-foot carpet and 46-foot-tall chandelier are its centerpieces. The mosque can accommodate 20,000 worshippers.

The Al Alam Palace is one of six royal residences. Built 200 years ago by the current sultan’s seventh grandfather, it has been celebrated for its elegance and understated beauty. Visitors may view its exterior. But travelers can enter as deeply into the Muttrah Souk as they wish. Located along the sea port, it is sometimes called “Al Dhalam,” meaning “darkness” in Arabic, for the shadows cast by the narrow lanes that keep out the sunlight.

Still today, the old Portuguese fortresses of Al-Mirani and Al-Jalali stand watch over Muscat like great protectors. The former does so from the hills and the latter from the harbor, their imposing towers and ramparts striking a dramatic pose in the golden-hued landscape.

Muscat Entertainment and Activities

The stunning setting of Muscat can best be appreciated during a stroll along the Muttrah Corniche. Latticed buildings, glimmering mosques and svelte minarets mark your progress under the watch of jagged mountains and the sweeping harbor. The Corniche also connects you to some of the harbor’s main sites, from the Muttrah Souk to the bustling Fish Market, where the predawn catch is hauled in and put up for sale.

As Oman’s capital, Muscat boasts a generous share of museums. The House of al Zubair museum (Bait al Zubair) holds a private collection owned by His Excellency Mohammad Al Zubair, Advisor to His Majesty the Sultan for Economic Planning Affairs. Numerous items of Omani heritage are here, including weaponry, jewelry, clothing, photographs, paintings, maps and more. The National Museum of the Sultanate of Oman delves a little deeper. The exhibits of this beloved cultural institution reach back some 2 million years and follow human presence in the region to the present day.

Muscat Restaurants and Shopping

Omani cuisine primarily consists of chicken, lamb and rice prepared with spices such as curries and marinades. In Muscat, seafood is also very popular. The major meal of the day is typically eaten mid-day, while the evening meal is lighter.

In the Muttrah Souk along the Corniche, browse all manner of Arabian goods, from intricately patterned carpets to delicate jewelry. Perfumes, freshly picked dates and khanjars, traditional silver daggers, can also be found here. For a special treat, visit Amouage, purveyors of what has been called the most expensive perfume in the world, made with frankincense and other exotic materials. Locally made goods are sold at the Omani Heritage Gallery; sales support the craftspeople who help keep Oman’s traditions alive.