Muscat Travel Guide

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The Grand Mosque

The Grand Mosque

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Muscat, the official capital of Oman, is only a small part of a larger grouping of cities and towns strung some 40kms along the coast of the Gulf of Oman, which is known locally as the "Capital Area" or the "Muscat Municipality." Never much deeper than 3 or 4 kms, this string of towns forms a sort of necklace sandwiched between the sea to the north and a very rocky, primeval-looking range of barren mountains to the south. Despite its ceremonial position as capital, the neighboring cities of Muttruh, with its superb corniche encirling a charming bay, and Ruwi, the traditional commercial center of the area, are both much more important.

A thriving and strategically located port of the Arabian peninsula in ancient times, Muscat is the capital of modern Oman. It has a somewhat medieval appearance with two old Portuguese forts, Jelali and Merani. These picturesque old structures co-exist with modern, commercial, and residential quarters of the neighboring coastal towns, and lend the city an ambience all its own . The seaside, ceremonial palace of H.M.Sultan Qaboos Said, nestled between steep rocky hills, offers a spectacular sight, especially at night.

Things to see

Muscat proper

There's actually not a lot to see in Muscat. There's the Al-Alam Palace, which is a mostly ceremonial building because the Sultan prefers another palace near Seeb, which is secluded and never seen by outsiders. Then there are a couple reasonably attractive mosques plus the Beit Al-Fransi, which was once the French Embassy, the Beit al-Zawawi, once the British Embassy, and another building, where the American Embassy was once located. There's also a small suq. Finally, there are the two forts, which are rarely open to the public. A walk by the palace and around to the side for a view out over the cove and maybe a couple hours in the museum at the Beit al-Fransi and that will probably suffice for Msucat.

Muttruh

Muttruh is the real sight in the Muscat Municipality. The Corniche is worth the trip alone, especially at night with the lights reflecting off the water and the white facades of the old merchants' houses that front the promenade.

Just behind the Corniche is the old covered suq or market. In this rabbit warren of narrow streets you can find anything from Rolex watches to frankincense and from 22-24 k gold to cheap plastic cups and plates, not to mention dozens of fabric and tailors' shops.

Muttruh's Lawatiyah Quarter On the western end of the Corniche and extending back two or three streets that run parallel to it is a section of Muttruh that is off-limits to all but locals. The Lawatis are a group of generally wealthy merchants who originated in the Kutch area of Gujarat, India. They are Shi'a Muslim, while the majority of Omanis are Abadhi, a branch separate of Sunni and Shi'a. They have lived in their own sort of self-imposed ghetto for generations and intend to continue to do so. Although they interact with the population at large, there is virtually no intermarriage (or so I have been told). For a visitor, this exclusivity is somewhat frustrating, for some of the most beautiful houses along the Corniche are owned by Lawatiyahs, the streets behind seem very interesting and inviting, but if you attempt to enter, you will soon be turned away...

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