Oman: big mosques, long history and a dictator who seems to be a nice guy.

I rarely get overly enthusiastic about religious buildings, but I found Muscat’s Al-Ghubrah & Ghala mosque, also known as the Grand Mosque, especially photogenic. So here are a bunch of photos.

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Unfortunately, the mosque is only open to non-muslims in the mornings, and I was flying to Dubai that very evening. I would have liked to see the main prayer hall, which apparently houses the largest hand woven carpet in the world, at 60 x 70 m. 600 women worked on it and it took them 4 years to finish!


The mosque was built to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Sultan taking power. Sultan Qaboos overthrew the previous sultan in a bloodless coup and sent him into exile in London. Since the guy he overthrew happened to be his father, I imagine family gatherings were never quite the same after that incident. In power for 43 years, he never married and has no children, so whatever the post Qaboos will be remains a mystery.


He has apparently proved to be a good leader who has greatly developed his country, which didn’t even have a single secondary school when he took power. Since Oman’s oil resources are limited, the country cannot afford to rely on foreign workers, even for very skilled work, so a huge emphasis has been placed on education. While public funds seem to mostly serve the interests of the population, he was still able to afford a reasonably sized floating toy (no, not the one in the foreground).


His house, which was clearly not built by the same architect who designed the mosque. If I had to guess from a picture in which country this monstrosity had been built, I would have guessed one of the Central Asian Muslim states, like Uzbekistan, in a horrible combination of islamic and communist architecture.


Weirder still, this mysterious replica of a giant incense burner, called the Riyam Monument.


Architecturally, none of the neighbourhoods I saw around Muscat are very interesting (and having rented a car, I saw a lot). It lacks the spectacular modern structures of its small northern neighbours and the old charm of Yemen’s villages and capital. This is the waterfront walk in Mutrah.


The 16th Century Mutrah Fort. Still used by the military, it is not open to visitors.


The National Museum is apparently a rather disappointing affair, so after driving around the district of Ruwi looking for it for 10 minutes, I gave up. But I did stumble upon this construction project, which a billboard announced as the new National Museum. For the next visit…


One museum I did visit was the Bail Al-Baranda, which presents a very interesting portrait of Muscat’s complicated and long naval history. In the strange competition of colonial times, France used to license Omani ships to fly under the French flag, and therefore French protection. The British were not pleased.


Did I mentioned the naval history was long? This model recreates a battle where Omani sailors successfully fought off an attack by ships sent by Trajan, Emperor of Rome, in the year 116!



I don’t know why I keep going to souqs. They are always very high on the list of “things to see”, but they rarely have anything that interests me. This one distinguished itself by having a lot of flags on the ceiling.


Up some little watchtower.


And city workers on break!

Oman was the only country I had not been to in the Arabian Peninsula (other than Saudi Arabia, which used to severely restrict non-muslim access until recently). I found it surprisingly different from the other ones, but probably not the most exciting place on Earth. That being said, apparently the desert of a fascinating place to explore, but I didn’t have the time to go, having cut my visit to the regions short by a few days.


2 thoughts on “Oman: big mosques, long history and a dictator who seems to be a nice guy.

  1. Beautiful pics of the Grand Mosque, shame you didn’t get to go in would of loved to see pics on the inside. Still love following your journey. :) Hope your well.

    • Thanks Sarah! BTW, your Singapore botanical garden thing pictures have inspired me; I’m trying to set-up a 48h stopover to check it out. Cheers and say hi to J for me.

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