Muscat (Masqat), Oman
Muscat is the capital city and main port. It is located in the north on the Gulf of Oman coast and, until 1970, lent its name to the official title of the country—Muscat and Oman. It is a long, linear city, its separate districts each having distinctive characters.
Archaeological evidence suggests human habitation in the Muscat area from the Stone Age. The earliest settlements date from the 3rd millennium BC. The tribes in the northern part of Oman were converted to Islam during the first generation of the Islamic era—the middle of the seventh century AD. In about 1507, Muscat and its hinterland came under Portuguese rule. The Portuguese realized the city’s strategic importance in controlling the Persian Gulf and trade between the Arabian peninsula and Persia (Iran), and between Europe and India. They built forts and walled defences, but were ultimately unable to hold the town. In 1650 they were expelled by a revolt, after which Omani commercial power expanded throughout the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
Civil war ravaged Oman in the first half of the eighteenth century, before Ahmad bin Said, founder of the present Al Said dynasty, gained power in 1749. In 1786 the capital was moved from the interior to Muscat. The heyday of the Omani empire was in the mid-nineteenth century under Sultan Said bin Sultan. He brought Dhofar under the Omani flag and extended Omani influence and control down the East African coast. When he died, his dominions were split in two. One son became the Sultan of Zanzibar, the other the Sultan of Muscat and Oman—an acknowledgement of the different interests of the coastal and interior regions of the country.
Since the accession of Sultan Qaboos bin Said in 1970, and the targeted deployment of oil export revenues, Muscat has developed and expanded rapidly as the commercial, industrial and administrative heart of Oman. The old port of Muscat, Mutrah and Ruwi are at the core of the capital. The old port area, at the eastern end of the city and enclosed by a wall, contains the Sultan’s palace, a harbour and fortress ruins. Mutrah, 3 km northwest of Muscat, includes the Sultanate’s main deep-water seaport of Mina Qaboos, through which most of the country’s international trade passes. With its corniche and souk, it is also a major attraction for visitors. Inland from Mutrah lies Ruwi, the modern financial and commercial district of the capital. Ruwi is host to the major international banks. Along the coast to the west are a number of new, mostly residential districts—Qurm, Shatti al-Qurm, Madinat as-Sultan Qaboos and Al-Khuwair. Modern highways link the city with other Omani centres and with the neighbouring United Arab Emirates.
Places of Interest
Muscat is rich in historic sites. The Portuguese forts of Jalali and Mirani, dating from the occupation, guard the sea entrance to the old port. Mutrah fort, also Portuguese, sits on a hill overlooking the present corniche. Another landmark is the Ruwi wall, the main gate of which has been restored. There are various museums, in particular the Natural History and Armed Forces Museums. The souk in Mutrah is considered one of the most interesting in the Gulf states.