Historical masterpieces: Sites that bring Oman’s past to life

As the oldest independent Arab state and the site of one of the world’s earliest inhabited cities, Oman is a treasure trove for history buffs. Here are five sites not to miss.Saturday, 2 November 2019

By Oman Ministry of Tourism
Muscat's National Museum is the best stop for a comprehensive tour of Oman's past.
Muscat's National Museum is the best stop for a comprehensive tour of Oman's past.
photo by Getty

From the arrival of Islam in the seventh century to brief Portuguese rule in the 16th, the Omani Empire and the modern-day Sultanate, Oman’s history is as rich and varied as its terrain. Starting in the capital, Muscat, visitors can explore the country’s fascinating past through a series of museums, palaces and mosques, before travelling further afield for forts and ruins, and even the Frankincense Route.

The National Museum

Muscat is home to several museums exploring culture and military history, but the relatively new National Museum is the best stop for a comprehensive tour of Oman’s past. Located in the heart of the capital opposite Al Alam Palace, the state-of-the-art building houses 14 permanent galleries that delve into maritime history, prehistory and ancient Oman, currency, arms and the splendours of Islam, with plenty of interactive exhibitions and rare artefacts to examine. Allow at least three hours for a visit and don’t miss the 15-minute film mapping Oman’s history, which puts the museum into context.

Entry costs five rials (£11).

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat is one of the largest in the Middle East.
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat is one of the largest in the Middle East.
photo by Getty

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

A gift to Oman marking Sultan Qaboos’s 30th year of reign, this modern Islamic mosque is one of the largest in the Middle East. Stunning both outside and in, the mosque’s most remarkable features include a central chandelier made from Swarovski crystal, plus a Persian carpet that took four years to weave and is the second-largest hand-loomed carpet in the world. Sultan Qaboos is an active place of worship so visitors should adhere to the conservative dress code.

Afaq Travel’s grand city tour takes in the mosque as well as the Bait Al Zubair Museum and Al Alam Palace.

Al Alam Palace in Old Muscat is one of the most important of Sultan Qaboos’s six royal residences.
Al Alam Palace in Old Muscat is one of the most important of Sultan Qaboos’s six royal residences.
photo by Getty

Al Alam Palace

The centrepiece of Old Muscat, Al Alam Palace was rebuilt in 1972 and is the most important of Sultan Qaboos’s six royal residences — although he rarely stays here. It’s not possible to enter the palace, but a stroll around the grounds offers the chance to admire the spectacular contemporary Islamic architecture, with its decadent gold-and-blue columns. Wander the area to check out the ornate arches of the Ministry of Finance and the Al Jalali and Mirani forts.

Orient Tours offers a half-day Muscat city tour taking in the palace and Old Town, as well as a fish market and bustling souk.

Nakhal Fort in the Al Batinah Region offers spectacular mountain views from its hilltop setting.
Nakhal Fort in the Al Batinah Region offers spectacular mountain views from its hilltop setting.
photo by Getty

Nakhal Fort

The most well-preserved fort in Oman, Nakhal is located just an hour’s drive from Muscat and offers a glimpse of the country’s rich history. Originally built in pre-Islamic times, it’s been restored and expanded by most of Oman’s rulers, whose influences can be seen in geometric designs, Arabic scriptures and even a British cannon. What makes it unique is its irregular shape, built around a large rock, with different-sized rooms decorated according to their original use. Its hilltop location offers spectacular views of the surrounding palms (‘nakhal’ comes from the word for palm) and rugged mountains.

Afaq Travel offers full-day tours of Nakhal Fort and Wadi Bani Awf. 

Khasab is the gateway to the Musandam Peninsula.
Khasab is the gateway to the Musandam Peninsula.
photo by Getty

Khasab

Cut off from the rest of Oman by ocean and the United Arab Emirates, Khasab is best known as a gateway to the Musandam Peninsula and its fjords. But the quiet port city, built in the 17th century under Portuguese rule, is worth a visit too for its castles and forts. The impeccably restored Khasab Fort was built by the Portuguese on the ruins of an earlier fort and now houses a well-run museum.

Oman Air flies daily from Muscat to Khasab but the historically curious can take the ferry via the fascinating Strait of Hormuz, the passage of all ships from the Indian Ocean and Arabian sea. Return tickets with the National Ferries Company start from 35 rials (£75).

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