Minerva Memories – Muscat and Nizwa

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Muscat, the capital city of Oman lies sparkling white, topped with golden minarets in the middle of a maze of brown pleated mountains reaching down to the Arabian Sea. Described as “Arabia’s jewel”, this city is a blend of the old and the new. Muscat is green as green can be, and defies being classified as part of a desert country.

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The roads are lined with well-manicured green lawns and trees. During winter this is interspersed with a profusion of multicoloured flowers. The city has steadfastly retained its old-world character. Old Muscat has a quaint charm about it with many forts, castles, mosques and towers doting the landscape.

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Of particular note are Jalali and Mirani forts flanking Al Alam Palace. The Corniche, with its promenade and souqs (markets) is one of the highlights of the city. The old souq of Muttrah is an ideal spot for tourists to buy keepsakes and treasures.

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Greater Muscat boasts high-rise business properties (but not too high), world-class highways, upscale suburbs rooted in traditional Islamic architecture, elegant mosques, large green parks, archaeological sites, museums and world-class hotels.

The front of the Sultan's Palace.

The front of the Sultan’s Palace.

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Inside of the Muscat military harbour the sailors of visiting ships have taken to writing the name of their ship on the hillsides this tradition dates back decades and each year subsequent ships’ names are carved or painted into the sides of the hill.

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As this harbour is the entrance to the Sultan’s palace the nickname for these ships’ paintings is the Sultan’s Visitors’ Book. Some descriptions of the painted rocks date back several hundred years and are described in some some old texts.

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Nizwa, the verdant oasis city with its blend of the modern and the ancient was the capital of Oman during the 6th and 7th century. One of the oldest cities of the Sultanate, this was once a center of education and art.

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Nizwa has been an important cross roads at the base of the Western Hajar Mountains connecting Muscat, Buraimi, and the lower reaches of Dhofar. The Falaj Daris of Nizwa is the largest single falaj in Oman and provides the surrounding country side with much needed water for the plantations.

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The city, famous for its historical monuments, handicrafts and agricultural products, has an expansive Souq showcasing a wonderful array of handicrafts – coffee pots, swords, leather goods, silverware, antiques, and household utensils.

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Nizwa fort, completed in the 1650’s, was the seat of power during the rule of the Al Ya’ruba dynasty and is Oman’s most visited National monument. The reconstructed Sultan Qaboos Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Oman. In the evenings, the call of the muezzin fills the air calling the faithful to prayer.

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A few kilometers from Nizwa lies the mysterious town of Bahla. Bahla is the home of myths and legends that have carried through the centuries.

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Some people today still believe that magic is afoot in Bahla and many Omanis are superstitious when it comes to talking about Bahla. This little town is famous for its pottery.

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The old Bahla fort with its 12 km wall is the oldest fort in Oman. The fort is believed to have been built in pre-Islamic times and is now undergoing reconstruction sponsored by UNESCO and the site is included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage monuments.

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A short distance beyond Bahla lies the Castle of Jabreen. This massive three-storied was also built during Al Ya’ruba dynasty of the mid 1600’s.

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It is a fine example of Islamic architecture with beautiful wooden inscriptions and paintings on the ceilings. Other interesting locales between Nizwa and Bahla are the 400-year-old village of Al Hamra and the mountainside village of Misfah Al Abreen.

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About Basia Zarzycka

www.basiazarzycka.com