White houses, blur minaret and dome, distant mountains
Culture & tradition,  Monday walks,  Oman

A walk along the Corniche in Muttrah

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!

Labelled aerial view of a modern building
The fish market on Google Earth
Modern white building roof
The fish market

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!

Large grey bird with long neck on rocks
Waiting …
Large grey bird with long neck on rocks
… and taking off

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!

Marina with large yachts moored
The Sultan’s yachts

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.

Blue tiled minaret with gulls circling
Shia Sur al Lewatia Mosque

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.

Huge white carved round shape and giant gold urn
Riyam Censer and fountain

The souk

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


  • rkrontheroad

    I always enjoy your glimpses into places I haven’t been, and learning about them. The Mosque towers are quite intricate, and the fish scales on the roof of the market so unusual. A perfect moment with the egret.

  • Marie

    Thanks for the memories – and the glimpse (well more than a glimpse) into the fish market which was closed when we were there…. I’ll certainly second everything you say about the country – we’d a lovely trip in 2018 and would highly recommend it….

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Marie, I’m happy to have shown you inside the fish market 🙂 I think it’s only open for the first part of the morning which could be why you found it closed? When the fish is all sold, they shut up shop!

  • restlessjo

    I remember some of the fascinating posts that came out of Cathy’s stay in Oman. (she’s currently Wanderessence and experimenting with videos, but she worked there for a year or more) The photos are great, Sarah. I especially love the architectural ‘twiddly’ details and the close up of that censer. Thanks, as always, for the link.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      It really is a fascinating country Jo, with its mix of tradition and modern, and so easy and comfortable to visit too 🙂 Glad you liked those details and thanks for hosting such a great challenge 😘

  • I. J. Khanewala

    That lattice with the 10-pointed stars and pentagons is amazing: an example of the complex mathematics that arose from the Islamic prohibition against using natural forms in decoration. There’s also quite a lot of complexity in the repeating patterns which decorate the caps. Beautiful

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks 🙂 I really liked this souk because there weren’t the same levels of hassle as in comparable ones elsewhere and although modernised it still felt fairly traditional.

  • Oh, the Places We See

    A delightful composition of photos. I always love to see markets wherever we travel, and this fish market is an unusual one for me. I also love the stony faces of the men you captured in that market. But the shot I really love is the exterior of the market — oh, those lines in the architecture. Good eye!

  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Very interesting post, Sarah! We would never have known about the Muttrah district of Muscat without reading your post and viewing your lovely photographs. How interesting that the sultan has a “cruise ship” for a yacht – can’t even imagine that kind of wealth. On the other hand, it appears that the sellers in the marketplace are people like us who are just trying to make a living – we wouldn’t want to be handling fish all day, though. Travelers rarely photograph the local people, which is interesting to us, and your photos show that beauty can be found everywhere. We see great blue herons at a park in our neighborhood, but we would be thrilled to see one in a foreign city too! The giant incense burner is of particular interest. We wonder if they actually burn incense in it. Since we travel mainly in the US – national parks, particularly – we doubt that we will get to see the rest of the world, so we will enjoy traveling with you through your delightful blog posts. Thank you for sharing your wonderful trip!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much for this comprehensive comment 🙂 I’m glad you’ve enjoyed getting to know Muttrah. Yes, the Sultan is wealthy, although in the case of this one I should perhaps say ‘was’, as he died not long after our visit and has been succeeded by a cousin. But he also did a huge amount of good for his people, transforming the country from a feudal state to a modern one in only 40 years or so; building hospitals, schools and road; promoting education for girls as well as boys, and more.

      Yes, they do burn incense in that censer I believe, although I’m not certain – we didn’t see it burning. And by the way, I often photograph locals on my travels as I enjoy street photography 🙂

  • margaret21

    I am no good at this bartering malarkey. I either refuse their first price and walk hurriedly away, or give in and pay. I really don’t have the right genetic makeup!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I know what you mean! I’ve struggled with it in places like Marrakesh, where I find the sellers quite aggressive, but here it was friendlier and I felt more comfortable offering a lower price to see what they would agree to. I’m pretty sure I always end up paying more than they would have accepted but as long as I feel it’s a fair price I don’t mind that. After all, it’s quite likely they need the money more than I do and I’m not prepared to haggle over 20p 😀

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    That is some incense burner! We feel we have unfinished business in the Arab world/Middle East, every time I read posts like this it strengthens that feeling. It’s good to be in places which are so different from home, isn’t it.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Absolutely agree with that last point! I really liked Oman and I’m pretty sure you would too – amazing scenery, friendly people and an interesting history both ancient and recent.

    • Annie Berger

      To piggyback on your last comment, Sarah, Steven and I loved the wide geographical diversity in Oman – the deserts, the sea, mountains including the Grand Canyon of Oman, wadis, etc. Rarely do we return anywhere but Oman was part of our 2020 itinerary before Covid changed everything. I still hope to return someday and explore another region of the surprisingly vast country.

      • Sarah Wilkie

        Yes, it’s that geographical diversity that we really liked, along with it being a friendly and welcoming country to visit 🙂 I can see why you’d want to return!

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