Muscat, the capital of Oman, lies in a bay enclosed by cliffs and has magnificent buildings to offer. The old town is easy to survey, and we recommend exploring it on foot.
Muscat is the capital of Oman. Together with its suburbs (Mutrah, Ruwi, Qurum, etc.), it forms the so-called Capital Area in which about 700,000 people live. Generally, Muscat (as Muscat is also called or written) always refers to the Capital Area. The old city of Muscat is one of our top 10 sights in Oman.
PICTURES: Old Town of Muscat
Sights in the Old City of Muscat (Muscat)
The historic centre of Old Muscat is located in a bay enclosed by cliffs and has about 30,000 inhabitants. The old town is relatively manageable, and it is advisable to explore it on foot, as it is not so easy to find your way around the one-way streets by car.
Sultan's Palace Qasr Al Alam
The architecturally exceptional Qasr Al Alam Palace was completed in 1974 and is the working palace of the ruling sultan. In order to build the colourful palace, about a third of the old town was razed. The palace is particularly impressive when you approach it via the boulevard from the south.
The Qasr Al Alam Palace - unmistakably designed by an Indian architect - is the dominant element in the old city and government quarter. The interior of the palace is unfortunately not accessible to visitors. To the left of the main gate, there is an entrance into the beautiful park. Those who have the opportunity to pass by in the evening will find the palace wonderfully illuminated.
PICTURES: Sultan's Palace in Muscat
The Bait Garaiza, the largest of the old merchant houses in Muscat, was built in 1630 on the site of a Portuguese chapel (Portuguese: "Igrezia" - hence the name). Before the construction of the Qasr Al Alam Palace, this was the seat of the Omani rulers in Muscat. In front of the building, 14 cannons were stuck vertically into the ground and have since acted as simple but effective bollards.
Al Khor Mosque
Just to the right of the Bait Garaiza is the very plain Masjid al-Khor. Blue domes and blue tiles dominate the façade, contrasting sharply with the grey-brown Fort Mirani behind it.
Mirani Fortress is one of two fortresses guarding the Omani capital Muscat. Together with Jalali Fortress, it was once part of the city walls and still towers over the port of Muscat on the Gulf of Oman. Both are on our list of the 10 most beautiful forts in Oman.
The once tower-shaped Al-Mirani Fort, also known as Al Gharbiya or Fort Capitan, was built in the 16th century together with the neighbouring Jalali Fort. This made Muscat 's harbour virtually impregnable, as the entire open sea could be monitored and fired upon from both forts together.
Construction of the Mirani Fortress
In 1507, Muscat was conquered by the Portuguese and its fortifications destroyed. Today's bulwark was built by the Portuguese on the foundation walls of the old fort and was made much more spacious. After several attacks by the Ottomans, who even took Muscat for a short time, it was clear to the Portuguese that Muscat needed a proper defence system and so they completed both forts by 1588.
Even then, the huge cistern was built, which could supply 300 men with water for two years. This made the port of Muscat as good as impregnable, because from both forts together the entire open sea could be monitored and shelled.
The three cannons that still stand in a backyard of the Mirani fortress used to announce the closing of the city gates in the evening and warn ships not to enter the harbour after dark without permission.
Tour of Mirani Fort
In the 17th century, the fortress was also used as a residence by the governor of Muscat. Further extensions were made in the 18th century by Imam Ahmed bin Said and in the 19th century by his grandson Sayyid Said bin Sultan.
The Mirani Fortress can only be visited from the outside. The fortress hill in the west of Muscat Bay can be reached via a stone staircase and offers a magnificent view over Muscat Harbour, the mountains and the city. A platform has also been built at the foot of the hill, from where visitors have a beautiful view of the fortress.
Legend of the Mirani Fort
According to legend, the Mirani Fort was recaptured in 1649 through a ruse. Allegedly, the Portuguese captain fell in love with the beautiful daughter of an Indian merchant. The latter refused to allow his Hindu daughter to marry a European, whereupon the commander threatened to cancel the trade agreements.
Thus, the Indian trader faked the preparations for the wedding for months and in the meantime convinced the captain that the supplies of Mirani Fort needed to be replaced.
When water and food as well as weapons and powder had been removed from the fort, the Hindu notified Imam Sultan bin Saif, who had only to claim the completely defenceless fort for himself.
Soon after, the Portuguese were driven out of Muscat altogether.
One of the most beautiful fortifications in the greater Muscat area, Fort Jalali sits prominently on a rocky outcrop. Together with Fort Mirani opposite, it was built in the 16th century to defend Muscat Bay. Completed shortly before Mirani Fort in 1587, it was destroyed by the Portuguese and then rebuilt.
Conquest by the Omanis
In 1650, Muscat and with it the fortress of Jalali were reconquered by the Omanis. In both the 17th and 18th centuries, the fort was generously expanded and enlarged.
Until the 1970s, the Jalali Fortress was used as a prison, holding not only overthrown rulers but also prisoners of the Jebel Akhdar War or the Dhofar Rebellion decided in Mirbat. Today it serves as a museum and an impressive eye-catcher on the outskirts of the old city of Muscat.
Visit to Jalali Fortress
Jalali Fortress is the only fortress in Muscat that can also be visited from the inside. For some years now, the Jalali Fortress can be reached not only via the steep, stone staircase, but also by gondola.
In 1983, the fort was extensively renovated. Behind its heavy, ornately decorated wooden gates, a museum of Omani culture and history has been established. Besides antique weapons and cannons, historical land and sea maps, pottery, jewellery, carpets, household items and other artefacts can be marvelled at. Particularly remarkable is the historic air-conditioning system, which was still operated by hand at the time.
The inner courtyards between the two mighty round towers of the Jalali Fortress are idyllically designed with fountains, ponds and palm gardens and invite visitors to stroll around.
From the towers and terraces, there is an excellent panoramic view of the old city of Muscat, the mountains and the sea. Above all, the Qasr Al Alam, the magnificent Sultan's Palace of Muscat, can be admired from the rocky island off the Omani coast.
Old pass road
The old pass road was the main connection to Mutrah before the Corniche was built. At the top of the pass, a road leads to a police station. From the watchtower you have a fantastic view of historic Muscat.