The beauty of exploring Oman in a small group is the opportunity it affords to really get to know a place. Here’s just a sample of the kinds of things you’ll learn about this fascinating corner of Arabia:
- Several cities in Oman were major stops along the Incense Route between the 7th and 2nd centuries BC. The route stretched between the Mediterranean and India and witnessed the trade of frankincense and myrrh, Indian spices, precious stones, pearls, silk, rare bird feathers and gold.
- The mighty fortresses of Oman, beautifully restored to their former glory, once defended the nation from marauders. In all, 500 edifices still stand throughout the small country.
- Oman’s colourful and bustling souks are a richly textured pastiche of perfume, livestock, freshly plucked dates, silver jewellery and khanjars, the silver daggers that have long symbolised manhood here.
- Muscat’s Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is an enormous testament to the kind and giving Islamic faith. Its dazzling expanse of white marble is accented with wooden panels and fantastic stain-glass windows. Inside, its central carpet covers 45,000 square feet and its chandelier measures 46 feet tall!
- The Portuguese ruled Oman from Muscat for 150 years. Two 16th-century forts – Al Jalali and Al Mirani – stand like guardians on either side of the Sultan’s Palace, adorned in turquoise and gold.
- Muscat’s souk in the Muttrah district is called Al Dhalam, which means “darkness” in Arabic. This marketplace, one of the oldest in the Arab world, got its name from the constant shadows cast by its crowded stalls and narrow lanes. It can get so dark here, even during the day, that shoppers need lamps to find their destinations.
- Oman enjoyed its own days as an imperial power. In the late 17th century, it actively vied for control of the region with Portugal and Britain. By the 19th century, its territories reached as far as Iran and Pakistan, and it relocated its capital to Zanzibar, the island off of today’s Tanzanian coast.
- The tower of Nizwa Fort boasts many architectural deceptions and strategic secrets. Hidden shafts and false doors were meant to confuse anyone who breached the fort’s walls. A twisting narrow staircase led to the tower’s ramparts, but a heavy wooden door studded with spikes prevented entry once infiltrators reached that last step. Additionally, shafts above these doors allowed the defenders to pour boiling oil or the sticky syrup of dates onto their enemies.
- Though football and basketball have recently entered Oman’s culture, traditional sports include horse racing, camel racing, bull fighting, falconry and the racing of dhows, the narrow wooden boats that have plied the country’s coast for centuries.
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