Muscat is a port the like of which cannot be found in the whole world where there is business and good things that cannot be found elsewhere.
Ahmed bin Majid al-Najdi
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 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 Alfonso de Alburqueque 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. It contributes to the city’s economy through the onshore refinery near Qurm, and provides a livelihood for fishermen along the beaches of Shatti al-Qurm and Athaiba. More recently, it has also become a source of recreation at Al-Bustan and Bandar Jissah, and along the sandy beach that stretches 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. Much loved by its citizens, it continues to be a beacon for those who live in the interior and a role model of understated calm in a region of hyperbole.