The Matrah "Dark Market" Souq is an area of open walkways. The "Dark" comes from the overhead roof that was put above the corridors to give shade and a cooling effect.
The Matrah Souq is arguable the oldest and best example of the traditional souqs in the entire peninsula and definitely the most iconic in Oman.
Everything is available from spices to precious metals, to woodwork, to sweets and food. There are jewelry stores, antiques and plenty of more contemporary items. Prices are rarely posted and bartering is the key to prices.
The corridors are open from sunrise to the quiet hours of the night. However each and every shop inside operates with their own hours. Typically they will close for a long siesta (~1p until 4pm). Otherwise they are open until the cool hours of the night.
Similar history to the fort across the bay, al Mirani fort was built in 1588 by the Portuguese to defend their ships against attack. Because it also served as the residence of the Portuguese commander, the fort became known as Forte del Almirante (i.e., admiral's fort). It is from this Portuguese word, which coincidentally happens to be of Arabic origin, that the name al Mirani was obtained. The Omanis took over the fort after they ousted the Portuguese in 1649. The fortress occupies an entire rocky hill at the western end of bay of Muscat and has strategic view over the bay. Mirani Fort is now no longer in use, but has undergone extensive restoration in recent years. Unfortunately, it is not open to visitors either.
A third fort built by the Portuguese guards the bay of Muscat. This one is located further out the bay on Mirani Street, away from the city of Muscat, on the same side as Mirani Fort. It is clearly visible from Muscat and from the Mirani Fort, as in the attached photo. However, this Fort does not appear on any map nor any guidebook. It happens to be located in an area used as a naval base and, therefore, it is probably out of bounds. Visitors will have to contend with a distant view from Muscat.
The Mirani Fort is one of the twin forts (the other being Jelali Fort) built by the Portugese and both these forts guard the port of Muscat from sea attacks. Today, both forts are used by the Omani police, so visitors are not allowed to enter. However, it is OK to take photographs of the forts from the outside. The Al Alam Palace lies in the head of the harbour, in between these two forts.
Mirani towers above the surrounding landscape. From its pinnacle, there are breathtaking views of the harbour, as well as the entire old city in the protective embrace of the surrounding mountains. Barring a few watchtowers atop their craggy summits, no other man-made structure appears to soar higher than the Mirani.
The present Mirani edifice was built on the ruins of an Omani fortification. Following the Portuguese conquest of Muscat in the 15th and 16th centuries, the structure was bolstered in tune with advances in military warfare of those times, especially in cannon warfare.
The structure was eventually recaptured by Sultan Turki bin Said after a ferocious battle, which also saw the fall of Fort Al Jalali and Fort Muttrah back into Omani hands.
Mirani has been restored to its original majesticity as part of a concerted renovation programme initiated by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.
On a moonlit night, the spotlighted citadel has the ambience of a fairy-tale castle.
On the inside however, parts of the fort have made way for some amenities of modern living, yet retaining overall, the atmosphere of an ancient fortification.
A formidable wall almost a metre thick runs around the fort, supplementing the natural defences offered by the rocky outcrop on which it stands.In fact, the structure was built along the contours of the outcrop, with the main fortification resting on the summit of the outcrop.
Mirani has a myriad rooms and a maze of stairways, all aimed at confounding the enemy if the initial defences were breached. One key feature is a giant tower quite distinct from the main structure that telescopes skywards. A tiny circular room on the topmost floor of the tower now serves as a museum for the fort's heritage and past glory.
Inside are some fine relics of Omani history and its martial heritage.
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