Muscat has a character quite different from neighbouring capitals. There are few high-rise blocks, and even functional buildings are required to reflect tradition with a dome or an arabesque window. The result is an attractive 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 play a role in city life, sustaining the fishing industry and providing opportunities for visitors to swim along sandy beaches or dive with turtles in nearby lagoons. The opening of the Royal Opera House in 2011 and a fine new national museum in 2017 are other attractions that ensure Muscat acts as a beacon for those who live in Oman's interior and as a model of calm in a region of conflict.