Words by Daniel Scott
Frankincense is far from the only treasure that emanates from Oman, but it has helped define this maritime nation for thousands of years. Recognising the significance of their gift, Omani merchants took to their ships to trade with the all the great civilisations of antiquity, from Rome to China.
So this Islamic country has long looked outward from its strategically important corner of the Middle East. It has also undergone periods of colonisation by Portugal and the Ottoman Turks and influence from the United Kingdom during the 20th century. Unlike its neighbours Saudi Arabia and the United Araba Emirates, Oman has not enjoyed immense oil wealth but it is a destination for visitors with its unique history and natural beauty.
The starting point for most is Muscat, the capital, which, in parts like Mutra, with its lively souks and al fresco restaurants, feels almost Mediterranean. But then you step inside the immaculate Grand Mosque, with its colonnaded passage ways reflecting different periods of Islamic influence and its massive prayer hall, complete with 8-tonne, 15m tall chandelier lit up by 600,000 Swarovski crystals, and realise that this well and truly the Middle East.
Oman’s history, brought to life in Muscat’s National Museum, in Nizwar Fort, which was built in 1650. The Al Baleed World Heritage site in Salalah in the country’s south, is another fascinating way to immerse yourself on Oman’s history with the 250-year-old ruins of an ancient city. And its dramatic landscapes, of sand dunes rearing up to 200m in the “Empty Quarter”, of jagged mountains enfolding giant canyons in the north, and the desert bounded by a glistening Arabian Sea in the east, will intoxicate you as completely as the delicious aroma of burning frankincense.