A Showcase of Modern Tradition
While 1970 was a turning point for Oman developmentally, this Arabian nation has retained its rich cultural heritage in many ways from traditional familial structure and Arab hospitality all the way to the architectural design of new homes and city planning. While exploring the Sultanate you will notice many architectural themes: richly decorated front doors, carved wooden ceilings, and traditional arched windows. These are design motifs that have been carried to today from Oman’s rich history.
Much of the early architecture within the city are mosques and forts traditionally constructed from clay or mud bricks. These strong buildings reflect the geography of the land surrounding them. The Mutrah Fort overlooks the Sea of Oman in Muscat. It is built into the crags of a mountain and looks more like an extension of the rocks rather than something simply built atop them. Nakhal Fort, at the base of Jebal Al Akhdar, does not follow a traditionally symmetrical pattern due to the rock on which it is sits. In fact, the mountain face was integrated into the structure of the fort to reveal a seamless transition between earth-made and man-made materials.
Although buildings are now made from polished marble and limestone, the browns and whites of the stone fit perfectly with the ancient forts and castles that overlook the city. In fact, Royal Guidelines dictate that all new construction must reflect the traditional heritage of Omani and Islamic culture. A prime example is that family dwellings can be no more than three stories high to follow the example of old Omani houses.
Sultan Qaboos University in Seeb is newer construction that represents traditional ideas: windows on the North and South to prevent glare from the sun, geometric patterns found in the tiles decorating the buildings as well as the surrounding flower beds, and the general symmetry carried in the compound as a whole. Other governmental construction such as the Majlis Oman, the building that houses Parliament, has the same symmetrical features and clean lines with simple details like arched windows and embrasures of the fortress roofs. Even Mutrah Souq, an area constructed decades ago, carries thematic features such as richly carved ceilings and geometric designs. When you take the time to notice all of these details, your drive through the city can be an experience in itself.
Omani architecture is subtle and continuous, reflecting the communal lifestyle of the Omani people from ancient days until the modern era. Even as the city progresses, the heart of Oman remains the same.