Muscat: Sultan's Palace and Grand Mosque

January 13, 2015

My guides, Mustafa and his brother Mohammad, urge me to visit the important sites in Muscat.   They also understand my desire to explore areas “off the beaten track.”   So they drive me to the Sultan Palace and the Fort and the Grand Mosque.  And then they guide me to two small towns and the unusual seacoast of the Gulf of Oman.

The Sultan no longer lives at the Palace.  It is used now for official ceremonies, meetings and conventions.  The nearby fort attests to the Portuguese invasion of Oman (1507) and the eventual expulsion (1650).

The Grand Mosque: “This glorious piece of modern Islamic architecture was a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos to mark the 30th year of his reign.  Quietly imposing from the outside, the main prayer hall is breathtakingly rich.  The Persian carpet alone measures 70m by 60m, making it the second largest hand-loomed Iranian carpet in the world (230 ft x 197 ft).   It took 600 women four years to weave.  The mosque can accommodate 20,000 worshipers, including 750 women in a private prayer hall.” *

Winding roads lead to the tiny village of Al-Seifa that rests in the shadow of the Hajar Mountains.  In the afternoon, the women gather to chat, the men sit and play their games, and the young women head for the sweet shop.

The busy city of Seeb (pop 302,000) has an authentic Omani souk.   One food stall offers about twenty types of dates.  I choose a fat variety and buy a half kilo. 

Dozens of clothing shops and shoe stores line the streets.   I wander into one shop looking for a good pair of hiking shoes.   Of course, they are all too small for my Western feet.  The insistent Indian shopkeeper selects a pair of casual shoes and guarantees they are “good quality, good quality.”

I ask “How much?”   He responds “Nine and a half Omani Rials.”   I offer “Eight.”   We both smile. **

*Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula.  Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd.  2013. Pg 128.

**One Omani Rial = $2.60 US