A city or a country is remembered more for its traditional architecture than for the milestone-setting modern buildings. Every year, thousands of tourists flock to countries like Turkey, Egypt, India, China, Russia, France, Portugal and UK for a once-in- lifetime sneak preview of mansions built centuries ago.
Some buildings reflect the countries cherished history whilst others recall its riveting past. They all have the same story to tell, most importantly about the efforts made by the present generations to maintain their past for the future.
Oman Tourism, on its website, says the “evolution of architecture is a measure of a nation’s civilisation and Oman abounds with a number of cultural buildings that stand as a testament to this art”.
Its castles, forts and walls are a testament to an architectural style, namely the Jabreen Castle and Bahla Fort are both included in the World Heritage Sites list.
The website said the architectural styles vary with the change of scenery – the types built in Musandam are mountain houses that employ natural air currents to form a cooling system that beat the scorching heat of summer months.
Interestingly, properties that have come up in Muscat in the past 20 years, including residential complexes, have not moved away from the traditional principles of architecture.
For example, the residential units at Al Mouj Muscat offer ultra-modern amenities like any high-end properties of our times, but the basic designs and lightings are still in line with the Omani traditional architecture and cultural heritage. These principles have been also followed in other high-end integrated projects such as Barr al Jissah, Saraya Bandar (Muscat Bay), Jebel Shifah.
“Authorities in Oman must be appreciated for keeping the traditional and cultural ethos of the city. New buildings can come up in line with the requirements of the modern safety and convenience needs, but what needs to be liked is the respect for the past,” said Richard Green, a business traveller who was in Oman for a conference.
He added, “We cannot preserve our past just by imposing rules or penalties. People should be made aware of the glorious history through campaigns. I think for a country like Oman with a large number of expatriate and a relatively young population, this can be challenging.”
Historically, Muscat has been a walled city known for the 16th-century Portuguese forts, mud houses. Bait al Zubair museum is an old-time aristocratic mansion that now houses Omani crafts.
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a modern-day marvel known for its teak doors, prayer halls, libraries, ceramics, chandeliers and its golden dome that stands tall facing the busy Sultan Qaboos High Street.
Nizwa is the past capital during the sixth and seventh century and is home to a reputed fort, famous for watch towers. Nizwa also hosts the Jabrin Castle. Dating back to 1670, it is famous for its structure, detailed lattice work, curved arches and detailed hand-chiselled doors.
The parliament or Majlis Shura building near the Al Bustan Palace Hotel, Supreme Court building in Azaiba and the National Museum Oman were all recently completed, still elegant based on Omani-style architecture.
Royal Opera House was dedicated to the nation only at the beginning of this century and has been hosting artists and audience from across the world. Opera House too offers rich interiors – in many ways ‘an embodiment of such complexity and multiplicity of references witnessed in Omani architecture’.
Reasons could be reasonable for cities across the world to go vertical amid burgeoning population, scarcity of land and environmental concerns limiting the possibilities of land reclamation from sea.
As per regulations, it may be noted that the administration of building permits at the Muscat Municipality specialises in approval of building permits and ratification of buildings plans in Muscat Governorate.
Apart from looking into the technical aspects, the department specialises in ensuring safety of the building from the aesthetic aspects, “harmony with the elements of Islamic and Arab Omani architecture and its compliance with the urban environment prevailing in the region and maintain the Omani identity and civilisation”.
“A few Indian cities still have the British or Mughal-era buildings constructed centuries ago and still preserved as heritage sites, but what is also to be noted is that new projects and their architecture are totally poles apart from the past,” said Rajkumar, an Indian national who is in Oman on a short trip.
He said, “Most of the new landmarks in Muscat like the Royal Opera House, Parliament building or even the Grand Mosque were completed in the last ten to 20 years, but they are still in line with the Omani style and uncompromising on modern facilities.”
Mohammed Haitham has been travelling to different parts of the world and felt most of the Western countries, developed or underdeveloped, are proud of their past, even if it brings bad or horrible memories to them.
“But in Asia, things are different as people want to catch up with the developed world with glass and tall buildings. I see a deliberate attempt to forget the colonial past and just move into the future,” he said.
Earlier this year, The Telegraph listed Oman among the top 20 countries for 2017 and 18th in the order. It is the only country to be ranked from the Arab world.
The Telegraph said: “Embracing modernisation while preserving the past is no easy task, but it’s something that Oman, on the south-east corner of the Arabian Peninsula, is managing with aplomb. The Sultanate remains a heady blend of ancient traditions, humble hospitality and spectacular scenery, with excellent infrastructure to boot.”
According to the safaritheglobe.com, Oman’s architecture is striking in appearance and quite unique, including the buildings being constructed today. Most of the country’s earliest still-standing architecture is in the form of forts, although clearly houses and mosques were built for hundreds of years.
Mosque architecture in Oman is similar to the rest of the Middle East as a whole, with one clear exception – many early mosques in Oman were built from clay bricks. Also, minarets weren’t a common feature on mosques in Oman until the 1800s.