Muscat Things To Do
Oman’s port capital is a unique city of modern high rises surrounded by austere mountains and desert, built on a site that has been inhabited since antiquity.
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The Portuguese Forts
Two 16th century Portuguese Forts watch over the bay, in stark contrast to the modern buildings between them. The Al Mirani and Matrah Forts are popular tourist destinations because they are such great places to take pictures of the city and water. The Al Mirani fort was built in 1588 by the Portuguese to defend their ships against attack. Because it also served as the residence of the Portuguese commander, the fort became known as Forte del Almirante (i.e., admiral’s fort). The fortress occupies an entire rocky hill at the western end of Bay of Muscat and has a strategic view over the water. Al Mirani Fort is no longer in use, but has undergone extensive restoration in recent years. Unfortunately, its interior is not open to visitors, though you can walk up the steps to take pictures. Perched on a small mountain on the opposing side of the bay, the Matrah Fort is the other Portuguese-built castle. It also dates from the 1580s, and was occupied by its builders until they were ousted by the Omanis in 1650. The Matrah Fort dominates the city’s skyline; unfortunately, its interior is also closed to visitors.
There are many historic sites to go see in Muscat – and not all of them are in a museum. The Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum is housed in a mid-19th century building originally built for the Sultan’s pleasure but that was eventually taken over as headquarters for the Omani military. Here, find plenty of exhibits of weaponry and Oman’s role in Middle Eastern politics. There’s also the Gate Museum, which marks the entry into Old Muscat. It was built in a traditional Omani style over Al-Bahri Road, the main road linking Old Muscat to Matrah. The structure over the gate houses the Muscat Gate House Museum, which focuses on the history of Muscat and its royal family.
Muscat was in fact a walled city until the 1970s, and Old Muscat is the official capital of Oman. Nowadays though, the city has expanded until the Old City is merely a neighborhood among a string of towns that form Greater Muscat. Until the British cut a road through the mountains in the 1920s, Muscat was only accessible by sea, with the rugged mountains encircling the town and forming a natural barrier. Today, Old Muscat contains the administrative and military establishments of the government and few residents. Its architecture is a mix of old and new, including many of the city’s prime tourist attractions such as old mansions-turned-museums and the 1970s royal palace. The town is eerily quiet and can be covered on foot in an afternoon, provided the weather is cool enough.
Check out the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, and an operational perfume factory that continues a centuries-old tradition in Oman. And visit Al Riyam Park, a great place for stunning views of the unique natural landscape.
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