nizwa mosque in oman

Once Upon a Trip to Oman: History, Art, and Culture

To be perfectly honest with you, I wasn’t knowledgeable of this majestic country to pen a brief history of Oman. It was my mother who had been aware and curious about this nation which is inhabiting the southeastern coast of the Arabian promontory, at the confluence of the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. 

So, I started researching and I discovered this small but enigmatic nation with rich history along with artistic and cultural precedence. Thus, I started this journey and humbly accepted that what I am going to write for you is a brief history of Oman, just a glimpse of the past so you can admire the present. 

Political Map of Oman
Political Map of Oman
Credit: Nations online Project

Most of the internal waterless region occupies the country with sand and a treeless interior that is part of the Arabian foreland recognized as the Rub-al-Khali. Though the land is crisscrossed by gas and oil pipelines today, it is still dominated by the Bedouin nomads. 

The coaster regions are far more hospitable in stark contradiction to the interior of Oman. The abundant northern coast divides the inland mountains and the sea. Alongside Dhofar in southern Oman, the northern region too is fertile and verdant to produce various goods like grapes. 

Muscat is the capital of the country and is situated on the northern coastline. The city displays a view of the Gulf of Oman that represents the amalgamation of traditional and modern architecture and nowadays serves as a commercial center and a port. Therefore, in this post, we are going to explore this art and culture along with a brief history of Oman. Let’s delve into it, shall we?

A Brief History of Oman 

The Early Stage

Oman history dictates three major themes: the tribal characteristic in the society, the conventional “Ibadi imamate” sort of government, and its historic trades through marine. According to the archeological proof, the Omani civilization dates back to the third millennium BCE. However, before the first century CE, the Persian colonization established the “falaj” irrigation system that sustained the Onami civilization and agriculture. 


The Oman history timeline takes a different path in the southern part of the country, namely Dhofar. The production of the frankincense was controlled by the Ancient Arabian Kingdoms from the first century CE. Thus, the province had remained connected politically and culturally to South Arabia till it merged with the state of Al Bu Sa id in the nineteenth century. 

Oman History From C. 1500

The Portuguese laid off Muscat, on the way to India in the year 1507 and dominated the whole coast soon. More than a century later, the dynasty named Ya ’rubid recaptured the coastal region in 1650 and then began to occupy the other Portuguese settlements in the East African coastal region and the Persian Gulf. On the eve of the eighteenth century, due to the succession of the imam, a civil war proceeded to ruin the dynasty and created the opportunity for Nadir Shah to invade Oman in 1737.

Restoration of Omani Reign

In 1749, the governor of Suhar, Ahmad ibn Sa ‘id eliminated the Persian invaders and was elected as the imam. He established the ruling of the Sa ‘id dynasty that still is the ruler of the country to this day. Upon the death of his grandson Sa ‘id ibn Sultan, the empire was split between two sons as rulers because one of them ruled Zanzibar where Al Bu Sa ‘id was in power until 1964 and Oman remained under the other son. 

The Son and daughter of the Sultan of Zanzibar is protected by two guards, 1800s
The daughter and son of the Sultan of Zanzibar protected by two guards

Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, Oman declined the fortunes of Al Bu Sa ‘id state. But, with the help from England, the dynasty dominated the country as the British supported the Sultans of Al Bu Sa ‘id in Muscat against the regular revivals of the Ibadi Imamate in the internal region of the country. 

Recurrent Civil Unrest

In the name of Imam, the attacks keep happening in Muscat in 1895 and Matrah in 1915. In the year 1920, the British had negotiated the “Agreement of Al-Sib” between Sultan Taymur ibn Faysal who ruled from 1913 to 1932, and the tribal leaders. By the conditions of the agreement, the Sultan identified the autonomy not the sovereignty of the interior of Oman. 

Since 1920, the interior remained autonomous until the death of imam Muhammad al-Khalili in 1954. Throughout the 1950s, conflicts between the forces of the imam and the sultan Taymur started. It continued as the weak successor Ghalib with his brother Talib and a tribal leader named Himyar wanted to conquer the country with the help of Saudi Arabia. When a British regiment suppressed the rebellion of the imami forces, a small part of the imamate held on to the rule of Mount al-Akhdar until they were compelled to yield in 1959.

Another threat to the Sultanate came in the form of the mountain Jibalis as they started to rebel against the oppressive nature of the current Sultan Sa ‘id ibn Taymur. The rebellion continued with the support of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and Marxist South Yemen that had attained independence from the British in late 1967 and Iraq.

Modernization of Omani Culture and Society

The Dhofar rebellion led to Sultan Sa ‘id being overthrown by his son Qaboos bin Said who immediately began to develop and modernize the Oman traditions. He had appointed the first cabinet of the nation and also began to build a contemporary government structure. 

Qaboos Bin Said in 2013
Qaboos Bin Said in 2013
Credit: wikipedia

While the rebellion continued, he held the position of Prime Minister and Minister of Defence along with foreign affairs. In 1975, with the help of Iranian and Jordanian troops, British equipment and personnel, and financial support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the rebellion was finally crushed. In 1971, Oman joined the United Nations and Arab league but did not become a member of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC. In 2000, when Oman joined the World Trade Organization, the country made an exceptional effort to liberalize the trade markets and improve the position in the global economy.

For more information, visit this site that I have come across and found very informative. 

A Brief History of Omani Art and Culture

As far as Omani cultural facts go, although it is a tribal society, the influence of its tribes on Omani social and cultural lives are gradually declining. The social custom of the Ibadi Muslim are conservative by Western social norms but it is less strict from the neighboring countries of Oman. 

Omani village women at the Wadi
Omani village women
Credit: Pinterest

Women experience more freedom than in other regions in Arabian Peninsula. Though women have to wear traditional attire, there are brightly colored dresses, slacks, fabrics, and jeweled ornaments and it varies from one region to another. Most of the men wear woven cotton robes or traditional thawb or dishdashah along with light woolen or cotton turban which is known as muzzar. 

Oman food culture contains the mealtime which is the center of attraction of each gathering. The quintessential Omani meal serves rice, spiced fish or lambs, tea or coffee, and dates. Frankincense is burned at the end of each meal.

Omani Culture and Society

Omani society celebrates the two most famous Islamic festivals including Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr. They also celebrate secular holidays like National Day, which is the expulsion day of the Portuguese in the seventeenth century and the birthday of the ruling Sultan. 

Founded in 1974, Oman Museum is situated on the outskirts of Muscat that exhibits the cultural values in Oman. The cultural repository of the country chronicles the history of the nation and involves displays on Islam. The Armed Forces Museum (1988) concentrates on the Oman Army history. Other institutes extend to the Children’s Museum, the Natural History Museum, National Museum along with Bait Nadir. 

An eighteenth-century residence was converted into Bait Nadir which now is home to traditional Onami Art and other items including wood carvings, pottery, silverware, and jewelry. In the latter half of the 1980s, the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra was constructed and it is now one of the very few national orchestras in the Mediterranean continent that has performed with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. 

Oman Arts and Crafts

Omani artisans are famous for weaving, goldsmithing, wood carvings, and for the construction of swords and daggers. Their handiworks are one of the many items that could be discovered in the markets of Muscat which is a place of attraction for popular culture. The Ministry of National Heritage and Culture preserves the excavating archaeological areas, historic buildings, and the crafting of various jewelry. It also advertises Onami literature and there’s an encyclopedia printed on the heritage of Onam.

Wooden Crafts in Oman
Wooden crafts in Oman

You can feel the intertwined exuberance of the contemporary and traditional arts in the cities as they preserve the heritage while incorporating the traditional architecture into the new creation. The theme of several documentary movies is the restored forts and castles of the nation that are one of the significant historic sites in Oman. Several strategic strongholds guarding internal Oman dates back to the seventeenth century while there are a series of architecturally vital forts, protecting the harbor of Muscat. 

One of the most notable of these forts is Bahla Fort, a mud-brick and stone edifice from the pre-Islamic period and it was designated as the World Heritage Site in the year 1987. Other similar sites include the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, Al – ‘Ayn, Bat, Al-Khutm, and the Frankincense trail that contains the stops of the ancient trade trail. 

All of the crafts in Oman have been documented thoroughly by the “Omani Craft Heritage Documentation Project” under the guidance of His Highness Sayyid Shihab Bin Tariq Al Said and validated by UNESCO.

Different regions have different crafts to represent such as Bahla is popular for pottery, Sur for boat-building, Jebel Shams for weaving rugs, Nizwa for making silver jewelry, and Shuwaymiyah for making baskets. For further information on Omani arts and crafts, you can visit the official website here

Oman Historical Places

This coastal nation is blessed with incredible architecture, legends to serene natural views. However, if you want to know the history of Oman, you must visit these places that I’m going to mention below. 

Nizwa Fort

The Nizwa Fort, Oman
The Nizwa Fort, Oman

The most visited fort and monument in Oman is Nizwa Fort. Unlike the counterpart of this fort which is Bahla Fort, it has not been included in the World Heritage Sites despite being built in the seventeenth century. The lack of prominence is made up by the study and exhibits conducted on it. 

Bahla Fort

Bahla Fort is an excellent instance of a defensive complex engineered for the tribes to safely stay there and prosper by carrying out their trade during the Middle Islamic era. The fort was constructed in the thirteenth century. A lot of threats had fallen upon the fort as the contemporary restoration process had been used on it.

Nowadays, it is the major tourist attraction in the Bahla settlement. According to the locals, the largest fort in Oman is renowned for hosting paranormal activities at night. It is not that surprising because Black Magic was practiced here before.

Al Alam Palace

Al Alam palace or the Sultan’s palace or the Qaboos palace is one of the six residences of the Sultan in Oman that is situated in Muscat. The ruling dynasty’s palace was built in 1972 and holds a history of two hundred years. Outlooking the Gulf of Oman, the flamboyant architecture is complemented with the luxuriant greenery and Mutrah Harbor. This palace is used to receive many distinctive guests from all over the world. 

Birkat Al Mouz Ruins

Birkat Al Mouz Ruins deserves to be in your itinerary as it houses the conventional Falaj irrigation system that is designated by the UNESCO world heritage and the most famous ruin in Oman. Though the enchanting beauty of this place doesn’t end here as it is surrounded by a big banana plantation that is encircled by mountains, two ruins, and picturesque scenery. 

Sumhuram Archeological Park

Sumhuram Archeological Park
Sumhuram ruins overlooking Khor Rori (Rouri)

Laying among one of the magnificent bays of Dhofar was known for being the major port for exporting Frankincense, Khori Rori is a part of history for almost two thousand years, and is now known as the Sumhuram Archeological park. This UNESCO Heritage Site is situated 25 miles east of Salalah on a hilltop that overlooks the creek of fresh water known as Khori Rori. The place is also a museum along with being an archeological site where you can see the archeologists excavating the place. 

Now, here we are at the end. My job of making you aware and inspiring you here is done. I hope that some of it will encourage you to know more and see more. I will keep my eyes and ears open too. Until then travel well, be well.



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