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Muscat is a port the like of which can’t be found in the whole world where there is business and good things that cannot be found elsewhere. As the great Arab navigator Ahmed bin Majid al Najdi recognised in 1490 AD, Muscat, even to this day, has a character quite different from neighbouring capitals. There are few high-rise blocks, and even the most functional building is required to reflect tradition with a dome or an arabesque window. The Sultan has decreed that new buildings can’t be more than seven stories and everything must be in traditional whitewashed style and nestled comfortably into the craggy mountains that the city seems, impossibly, to rise from. The result of these strict building policies is an attractive, spotlessly clean and whimsically uniform city — not much different in essence from the ‘very elegant town with very fine houses’ that the Portuguese admiral Afonso de Albuquerque observed as he sailed towards Muscat in the 16th century.
Muscat means ‘safe anchorage’, and the sea continues to constitute a major part of the city: it brings people on cruise ships and goods in containers to the historic ports of Old Muscat and Mutrah. More recently, it has also become a source of recreation at Bandar Jissah and Shatti al Qurm, taking advantage of the sandy beaches that stretch almost without interruption from Muscat to the border with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), over 200km to the northwest.
The opening of the Royal Opera House in 2011, with performances of acclaim from around the world, has helped place Muscat on an international stage and highlighted it as a forward-thinking, progressive city. With the imminent opening of a fine new national museum in Mutrah and the promise of new luxury hotels in the award-winning Al Mouj development near the airport, Muscat continues to be a beacon for those who live in the interior and a model of understated calm in a region of hyperbole.
Oman has the most varied nature in the region, with beaches, deserts and even green mountains. But none is more important than wadis, the lush desert oases where Omanis picnic and hike.