On our last morning in Muscat we explored the district known as Muttrah. This is the city’s commercial heart, home to its port and a number of sights. Our walk took us from the bustling fish market at its northern end past the port to the equally busy souk near the far end.
It wasn’t a long walk but there was plenty to see. So come with me on a Monday Walk with Jo to enjoy the sights!
The fish market
We started at the fish market, a modern building down by the waterfront at one end of the Corniche. I liked the design; the roof looks a bit like fish scales, and although not obvious from ground level, when I looked at the building later on Google maps (satellite view) I could see that the shape echoes that of a fish. Very clever!
We strolled through, taking photos of both fish and fish-sellers – some of the latter were happy to pose, other shots had to be grabbed surreptitiously.
On the Corniche
From the markets we carried along the Corniche to the souk. A heron on the rocks below caught my eye. He was diving regularly for fish, and I managed to catch him in action after a few failed attempts!
There was a cruise ship in port (just visible in the background on the far left of my image below) and at first I thought the large boats moored nearer to shore were smaller cruise ships. But when we met up with our guide Said later in the morning he enlightened me; these are the private yachts of the Sultan!
The port was on our left as we walked; on our right were the buildings of Muttrah, some old and some more modern. Among the oldest are some rather lovely 19th century merchants’ houses.
The mosque on the Corniche is the Shia Sur al Lewatia Mosque, with a Shia community living in a walled area, off-limits to visitors, nearby. A sign on the mosque also made it clear that non-Muslim visitors were not permitted to enter.
Ahead of us towards the end of the Corniche we had hazy views of Muttrah Fort and Riyam Censer, an enormous incense burner which stands on the Riyam headland at the western end of the Corniche.
I got a better view of the Censer later in the day, from the other side.
Muttrah’s souk is one of the oldest marketplaces in Oman dating back two hundred years (according to Wikipedia). But it is housed in a modern building and had expected the rather sterile atmosphere of the one I visited previously in Abu Dhabi. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that this one has far more character. There were lots of tourists, in particular from the large cruise ship we had seen moored in the port, but it was clear that locals also shop here, especially when you penetrate a little further from the Corniche entrance.
For the most part we simply enjoyed just wandering around, absorbing all the activity around us. Of course I also took lots of photos and found this easier than in many other similar places. Most of the shop-keepers seemed not to be bothered that they might be in my photos, although a few of my images were ‘shot from the hip’.
Many of the stalls of course sell quite similar goods, most of them (but not all) aimed at tourists rather than locals. Omani antiques sit alongside tacky souvenirs; knock-off football strips alongside t-shirts adorned with camels and palm trees; cheap bangles alongside rather lovely silver jewellery; and so on. Of course being Oman there is frankincense. In fact, this is, according to the Rough Guide, ‘one of the few markets in the world where it’s possible to buy gold, frankincense and myrrh all under a single roof’.
Shopping in the souk
I found the levels of hassle from sellers here somewhat less than in some other places we have visited, notably Marrakesh. However a few were rather quick to pounce when I stopped to look, and pressed me to buy something. This had the usual opposite effect from the one they intended as I moved swiftly on! But I did want to get one or two souvenirs and after browsing for a while chose a pretty scarf. The vendor wanted 6 rials, I offered 3 and we settled on 3.500, which I felt was fair. We also got a cushion cover for 2.500 – the seller admitted that, as I suspected, it was made in India rather than Oman, but we liked it and it went well with our décor and with a similar cushion we bought in Udaipur.
From the souk we drove with Said to the old city, to see some of its sights; but that can wait until a future post …
I visited Oman in 2019