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Published: June 24th 2019
This morning we have booked a half day tour of Muscat town. We are met by our guide who introduces himself as Hamid.
First stop is the very imposing Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, which was opened in 2001. The mosque has five minarets, a ladies mosque with capacity of 750, and a main hall which can cater for up to 6,500 male worshippers. Hamid proudly tells us that if the internal courtyards and corridors are included, its total capacity is 20,000. He preempts our question as to why the capacity for female worshippers is so much less than that for the men, by telling us that the ladies are not expected to attend the mosque as frequently so that they can be at home looking after their children and performing domestic duties.
The main hall is stunning. The main chandelier is powered by more than 1,100 halogen globes, and when it was first installed it was the largest chandelier in the world. The prayer carpet which covers most of the floor is made up of 1.7 billion knots, which also made it the world’s largest carpet when it was first laid. Both the chandelier and the carpet have now
been relegated to second place in the world standings by the mosque in Abu Dhabi in the UAE. From what we remember from being in Dubai a few years back this is entirely consistent with the Emirates having a perhaps slightly unhealthy obsession with having to have the biggest and best of everything.
Hamid asks us if we would like to visit the mosque’s Islamic Information Centre. We assume this will be some form of museum, but we quickly find ourselves ushered into a small room, where we are soon joined by an elderly man in flowing white robes and sporting a long grey beard. Issy tells him that he bears a striking resemblance to Morgan Freeman. The man doesn’t seem to know who Morgan Freeman is, and Issy clarifies that he is an actor who has played God in a number of Hollywood movies. We are served coffee and dates, and Morgan Freeman then asks us what we would like to know about Islam. We look back at him blankly. He responds by giving us some books about Islam which he tells us we need to read, and then spends the next ten minutes summarising the principles of
his faith. We are now thinking that he might actually be the mosque’s main Imam, and I think Issy might be starting to regret telling him that he looks like someone who impersonates God in movies. He finishes talking and we leave quickly before we manage to cause any more offence.
Next stop is the Royal Opera House which has been constructed to look like an Omani fort. It was opened in 2011. We are given a short tour by a young Omani girl with sparkling eyes, a very wide smile and a bubbly personality, all of which seem to be totally at odds with what she’s wearing. As seems to be the case with most Omani women and girls, she is dressed entirely in black from head to toe, and all we can see is her face. She introduces herself as Arini and she is very excited to tell us that she travelled down the east coast of Australia for a few weeks last year, and really enjoyed Melbourne. We watch as she struggles to walk up the stairs into the theatre, and she explains that this is because she went abseiling at a wadi with her friends
yesterday, and every muscle is her body is now regretting the experience. She shows us some pictures of the expedition, and points out her annoying male friend who seems to have tried to photo bomb every shot. I make a note to remember to never again judge anyone by what they are wearing.
The main theatre is stunning. It has capacity for an audience of 1,100 and the stage and orchestra pit are massive. They put on a wide variety of performances here every season, including classical European operas and ballets, and different forms of concerts. A number of notables have performed here including Pavarotti. Last year they put on a show which required the entire stage area to be covered in ice. I‘m glad I wasn’t footing the cooling bill for that one. Arini tells us that there is a separate theatre behind the main one which is reserved for Arabic music performances.
We drive down into Mutrah and stop at the fruit, vegetable and fish market. We saw two large boats which we assumed were cruise ships moored in the harbour when we came here a couple of days ago, but Hamid tells us that these
are actually the Sultan’s two royal yachts. It doesn’t look like the Sultan is too short of cash.
We drive through one of the old city’s main gates. Hamid tells us that up until 1970, when the current Sultan took over from his isolationist father, all the city gates were locked every night so that no one could get in or out. This sounds like something out of the Middle Ages.
We stop outside the gates of the Al Alam Palace, which is a ceremonial palace used by the Sultan to receive visiting dignitaries. It was built in the 1970s and looks a bit wierd and out of place. We begin to wonder if the 1970s were a bit of an architectural flat spot the world over.
We head off south around the coast to our last stop which is a look out over Muscat Bay’s luxury resorts and marina, which are set against a backdrop of spectacular limestone cliffs.
We spend the afternoon relaxing before heading out for dinner at a local restaurant. We sit in a courtyard near a fountain, under decorative lanterns hanging from trees. The setting is idyllic.
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