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Amid the ever-changing states of the Arabian Gulf, Oman offers a refreshing reminder of a seemingly bygone age. Overdevelopment has yet to blight its most spectacular landscapes and cultural traditions remain remarkably undiluted, making the sultanate one of the best places in the Gulf to experience traditional Arabia. Quiet stretches of coast are shaded with nodding palm trees and dotted with fishing boats. Mudbrick villages nestle amid sprawling date plantations or cling to the sides of remote valleys. Craggy chains of towering mountains are scored with precipitous canyons and rocky wadis, while the wind-blown dunes and gravel plains of the great inland deserts stretch away into the distance.

Of course, it's not all savagely beautiful, sparsely populated landscapes. Oman has embraced the modern world, and in parts of the country the contemporary is very much in evidence, particularly in the low-key glitter and bustle of the capital, Muscat, and in the burgeoning cities of Salalah and Sohar. Despite the trappings of modernity, however, much of the rest of the country retains a powerful sense of place and past. Busy souks continue to resound with the clamour of shoppers bargaining over frankincense, jewellery and food. Venerable forts and crumbling watchtowers still stand sentinel over towns they once protected, goats wander past huddles of ochre-coloured houses, and the white-robed Omanis themselves saunter quietly amid the palms.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Close to the road leading to the heart of the capital Muscat stands the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Wilayat (district) Bawshar, like a radiant lighthouse attracting its visitors to interact with the spirit of Islam as a religion, science and civilisation. This mosque highlights its role as a scientific and intellectual source of knowledge across the Islamic world.

After having an architectural competition to select the best design for Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, construction took six years. The mosque's total capacity is 20,000 worshipers, and it covers an estimated area of 416,000 square metres. The main square-shaped prayer room can accommodate 6,500 worshipers and has a central dome which rises 50 metres above the floor. The mosque's distinctive minaret lends it its individual style. Connecting the top of the mosque's walls and the internal courtyard is a bar inscribed with verses from the Koran in Thuluth script, with Islamic geometric frameworks filling the corridor archways. The names of Allah are inscribed in Diwani script on the corridors' front walls.

The corridors seem like a secure wall surrounding the mosque's building and meet through the five minarets that delineate the borders of the mosque's location and symbolise the five pillars of Islam. The length of the north and south corridors is 240 metres each. These have been divided into halls, each containing a decoration from a specific Islamic culture. The northern and southern corridors constitute the boundary between the places of worship and the mosque's other facilities. A canopy of domes resembling the domes of Bilad Bani Bu Ali mosque in A'Sharqiyah Region(Eastern Region) crowns the top of the corridors.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

The walls of the south corridor constitute a visible screen that houses the mosque's various facilities, including a library that contains 20,000 reference volumes in science, Islamic culture and humanity, in addition to the Institute of Islamic Sciences where young people learn the disciplines of religious knowledge, and a hall dedicated to meetings and seminars which accommodates three hundred people.

The interior walls of the mosque's main hall are completely covered with white and dark grey marble. These are decorated with murals of leafy patterns and geometrical designs. The room has an open plan with four main pillars carrying the internal dome. A corridor extends along both the north and south walls and opens into the mosque hall with its adorned arches. The dome is made up of spherical triangles within a structure of sides and marble columns, crossed with pointed arches and decorated with porcelain panels. Timber panels stretch in a fashion that reflects the architectural development of Omani ceilings.

Inscribed on the doors are Islamic embellishments topped by Quranic verses in the Thuluth script, while other doors have stained glass panels to emphasise the harmony and unity of the space dedicated to prayer. The selection of artwork in the halls reflects the evolution and multiple forms of architectural decoration and the culture that has spread its rich patterns from Andalusia to China. Holy verses are inscribed 2 centimetres deep on stones in the outer areas, so they stay as long as the mosque remains standing, God willing.

The mosque's prayer hall floor is topped with a single piece Persian carpet composed of 1,700 million knots which took about 27 months to make, covering an area of 4,200 square metres, and weighing 21 tons. 28 different colours made from plant or natural dyes, in varying gradations, are used in this carpet's weave.

Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the mosque every day, except Friday, from 8:30 until 11:00 am. Visitors are asked to dress modestly and in a way befitting places of worship. Women are also required to cover their hair.

Bait Al Zubair Museum

Bait Al Zubair Museum is located in Muscat, capital city of the Sultanate of Oman. Oman is an enchanting country that was one of the major civilisations of the ancient world, and has a diverse and magical landscape shrouded in legend and antiquity. Northern Oman is commonly thought to be part of the copper-rich civilisation of Magan, which was mentioned in the Mesopotamian cuneiform texts of the 3rd millennium BC, while southern Oman's history is closely connected with frankincense, an aromatic resin that was highly prized throughout the ancient world.

Oman lies at the crossroads of three continents and four seas. Its strategic location at the tip of the Arabian Gulf led to its fantastic seafaring history, which includes the legendary Sindbad the Sailor. It was one of the first countries to harness the monsoon winds to reach far destinations, interlinking its history, religion and culture with many Indian Ocean cultures along the way. For over 5,000 years the people of Oman have built settlements and harnessed natural resources. Mud-brick communities, forts and castles that encapsulate history and human endeavour within their very walls are strewn across the country, symbolising the true essence of Arabia.

Today Oman extends over 320,000 square kilometres, and is ruled by one of the oldest dynasties in the region. Discover the treasures of Oman's cultural heritage at Bait Al Zubair Museum and witness the friendliness of a forward-looking nation that is proud of its traditions and legendary hospitality.

Royal Opera House Muscat

Royal Opera House Muscat is the leading arts and culture organization in the Sultanate of Oman. Located in Muscat, Oman, the vision of the Opera House is to serve as a centre of excellence in global cultural engagement. We strive to enrich lives through diverse artistic, cultural, and educational programs.

The multidisciplinary work of Royal Opera House Muscat showcases rich and diverse artistic creations from Oman, the region, and the world; provides a space for culture and socioeconomic development reflections and actions; inspires audiences and nurtures creativity with innovative programs; fosters cultural vitality and unleashes talent; promotes cultural tourism; and puts cultural diplomacy into practice by reinvigorating global and multi-disciplinary collaborations and exchanges.

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