Salalah: The Mirbat Castle was also the Wali’s Fort. This fort had a significant role even in the 70s as it is strategically located facing the sea and looking out to the harbour.
The shore of Mirbat has lot to say from the ancients days, medieval period to modern history. The natural harbour had made it a significant point for commerce and trade. This is where the old souq of Mirbat is situated. The Ministry of Tourism, after restoration, has enhanced the role of the Castle by converting it into a museum that narrates the story of people of Oman and the culture and lifestyle.
The ground floor depicts the food and lifestyle of Oman. It explains in Arabic and English the staple food of Bedouins and farmers and how it is an integral part of the Omani diet: rice, bread, camel and cow’s milk, ghee (clarified butter), dates, meat derived from stringent adaptation to the arid environment.
It reminds the visitors that, centuries of trade by caravan and sea has also influenced the traditional Omani cuisine, which as a result is both linked to the culture and creativity of the Omani people as well as integrated with flavours from East Africa, Persia, Asia and beyond.
“The use of spices is one of the secrets, such as in the case of the ‘Bizar’, a seasoning mixture of cloves, peppercorns, cumin seeds, cardamom pods and cinnamon bark, used for flavouring rice and meat dishes.”
Rose water, saffron and cardamom are the essences of used to give the distinct fragrance to Omani Coffee (Qahwah). Coffee, together with dates and Halwa – the gelatinous Omani sweet are emblems of Omani hospitality and are always served to the guests explained the museum notes.
Hospitality is an important part of the Omani culture, and is symbolically represented by the coffeepots (Dallah/Dilal). Visitors to the castle also would be able to understand how traditionally, meals are served on the floor in a single serving of large tray filled with meat on a bed of rice.
The groups of guests sit around each tray, depending on the number of people and share food, which the museum further explains as, “Food ‘under the protection of the household’.” One can get a glimpse of that when you enter the Wali’s reception area, which is set in the traditional majlis style of seating. The room is situated at the entrance of the castle on to the right hand side.
The Mirbat Castle’s museum also displays the utensils, pottery and tools that were used in the traditional kitchen as well as original mortars. The museum explains that the wheat and grains were pounded in large wooden mortars with long pestles (Muq’ahwasfan) or ground by a rotary hand mill (Raha), consisting of two large rounded stones that are placed one upon the other.
The seeds are placed into the central hole in the upper stone and rotated against the lower stone by means of a vertical wooden handle. The flour would spill out from between the stones and then is collected on a palm mat.
Each room has a display that introduces the visitor to the nature of Dhofar, plant and animal species that are found in the region as the physical features that ensure the arrival of the monsoon during June to September.
While the exhibits features traditional crafts and maritime history, there is yet another surprise at the castle and that is the Mirror Room, located on the second floor. The stairs take to three different parts – the children’s room to the right, another exhibit area on the left and the corridor that goes straight lead to the sliding glass door and this is the Mirror room that has Omani wooden boxes for clothes and frankincense burners and mannequins modeling the unique Dhofari Thob that are styled with shorter length that come up to the ankle length in the front and a train at the back that could even erase footprints on sand so says the folklore.