All around the Gulf and the Middle East at large are old hubs of trade, traditional bazaars that have been around for generations which tourists flock to as do the more traditional parts of local society. Oman’s main bazaar is in the old city of Muttrah; and has the potential to be utilized for its unique products by everyone – not just tourists and those frequent to it .The souq’s modest entrance belies the hidden treasures it withholds; carrying hundred year old antiques, traditional household items which many Omanis still use on a daily basis, miraculous finds for any avid shopper and much, much more.
Muttrah souq is located in the heart of a cluster of numerous historical sites and must-sees for any tourist. It is across from Muscat’s harbor and picturesque cornice, south of a medieval Portuguese fort which once served as a bastion of defense and just a drive away from His Majesty Sultan Qaboos’ gleaming gold and royal blue palace. The souq has been around for as long as any Omani can remember, and, undoubtedly due to its seaside location, historically serving as an anchor for traders.
The souq has been renovated fairly recently, but – and admirably this is true of many sites around Oman – the renovation has not compromised Oman’s heritage and instead successfully preserved its original humble character. It is what some have called an ‘Arabian nights fantasy’, a maze of alleys lined with shop after shop. The friendly vendors stand alongside their shops, waiting to allow you a fair haggling experience and often wowing the customer with their other talents; one pashmina seller keeps an antique coin collection as well as a sketch book of his own meticulously drawn sketches.
The souq is a source of family household needs, selling traditional Omani handicrafts such as incense burners, khanjars, cooking pots and hookah pipes; an array of spices, nuts and perfumes; and traditional Omani dresses for men (dishdashas and kumas) and women (adorned and colorful dresses and matching pantaloons) and children (minature replicas of the adult dresses). It is also where many a native Omani bride head for wedding preparation, purchasing gold jewelry, hand-designed abayas, and multi-colored fabrics to tailor make dresses.
However, aside from its obvious tourist appeal and sets of everyday kitchen tools, the souq has the ability to supply the individual with unique, alternative to mainstream accessories. Too often we locals seem to get sucked into multi-corporation mall shopping, buy only brand name items of which every other person has an identical piece. For those of us oversaturated and bored with such items, the souq carries a wonderful supply of original, one-of-a-kind items. Men and women will find pure silver necklaces and rings smithed and soldered individually or pillow cases and table clothes sewn by hand into beautifully disproportionate shapes.
It is best to visit the souq at night when surrounded by Muttrah cornice’s glowing lights and; whether you are a first-time visitor to Muscat, on the hunt for a good bargain to redecorate your home, or someone in search of retro accessories to compliment an independent wardrobe, Muttrah Souq is an ideal place to stroll into.
By: Samyah Alfori
– Images by Samyah Alfori.