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A tribute to the source of the wealth found in Oman.
Have you even heard of Oman? Do you know where it is? It is not a country, but a Sultanate. It is small, with a population around 2.5 to 3 million people. Oman has Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates as neighbors. Its major product, like that of its neighbors, is oil. Its major city is Muscat, set in a rather primeval environment.
The rugged terrain provides an interesting backdrop to the Muscat harbor. Here, an ancient dhou is anchored in front of some ultra modern buildings.
On the other side of the harbor stands Jalali Fort, one of two defenses built by the Portuguese to protect the port of Muscat. Constructed in 1587, the Portuguese needed it to keep the Persian navy from seizing Muscat.
As we were driving around the capitol city, our guide was explaining the road we were on did not exist 25 years ago. This, he explained, was a perfect example of how, only recently, the area is coming into modern times. Though the land is ancient, everything here is new, and upscale...
... like this seaside palace of H.M. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, one of three palaces he has in the city. We did not go inside, but we can imagine it will be sumptuous!
To keep all in perspective, at the time we were there, there were more Mercedes Benz dealerships in Oman than anywhere else in the world, except for the city of Dubai.
The population is predominantly Muslim Arab, and there are beautiful mosques throughout the city. But the central mosque is a site to behold. Even from a distance, its golden dome commands your attention, its architecture your respect.
It is officially known as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a gift from the Sultan to his people. It was begun in 1995, and completed in 2001. While I don’t like statistics, aside from the obvious artistry of its design, there are two things about the mosque whose statistics must be included:
First, the floor of the prayer hall is covered with an enormous carpet. How enormous? 263-square-metres (2830 square feet).
Remember- this is one continuous carpet! If you are not impressed enough with its size,, know that it contains, 1,700 million knots, weighs 42,000 lbs, and took four years to produce!
Did you happen to notice the chandeliers around the main prayer room? There are 35 of them, made of Swarovski crystal and gilded metals.
Grand as it is in the picture above, the central chandelier is pictured below. It is huge beyond belief, to the point where you do not want to stand beneath it.
It weighs eight tons- 16,000 pounds. That's a lot of crystal
Actually, all that you see is unbelievably exquisite, the scale of everything, however, is overwhelming. Perhaps it is just that we have never seen anything quite like it. Although the Hussan II Mosque in Morocco is larger, this one, somehow, for us, is more memorable.
The geometric symmetry is incomparable.
Impressive as all this is, what we enjoyed most was the afternoon we spent moseying about the central souk (market). There is an intense multi-ethnic quality of the people milling about, and if you eavesdrop, you are likely to hear nearly every language spoken on earth.
We leave the mosque and continue our drive to see the high spots of the city. At its heart, there is a tall arch forming the entrance to the Muttrah Souk, the oldest and by far the most well known in Oman. Here, old and new mingle just as easily as do the modern buildings with the ancient ones.
Typical of souks, there seems to be a thousand shops crammed into one space; the shop above specializes in shoes and sandals. Anything you could want (almost) is available in the marketplace, and each shop has its own special inventory. Prices are negotiable, and you are expected to "haggle", but civilly.
P.S. We have no idea who the girl is.
It is such a decidedly Eastern atmosphere that it is almost jarring when you leave the place and return to the company of others who are not Middle Eastern.
Here is an example: The obviously Western woman "talks" to Omani kids. She is smart enough not to reach out to touch them. Both of the mothers here are totally covered, save for a slit for their eyes.
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