Omani Architecture: Spaces of Synthesis – Charlotte Reynders ’19

At the beginning of June, I had the incredible opportunity to visit Muscat, the capital city of Oman. (My roommate and her family have lived there for the past decade or so, and after years of hearing about the country’s mind-blowing natural and architectural beauty, I finally got the chance to travel there in person). One of the most fascinating aspects of Muscat is the fact that some of its most distinctive architectural sites have been constructed within the past forty years. Since the 1970s, the sultan of Oman has spear-headed efforts to develop the nation’s infrastructure, expand the tourism industry, and foster a shared sense of cultural identity. As a result, many of the country’s monumental architectural spaces not only bear witness to the history and traditions of Oman but also serve as sites of cross-cultural synthesis and experiential learning that materially articulate the nation’s identity on the world stage.

Two buildings in particular embody the themes that I have just described: the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, and the Royal Opera House. My roommate, her mother, and I visited the Grand Mosque on a 100-degree day towards the beginning of my trip. Because it was Ramadan, we each had to wear an abaya in order to participate in a tour of the gardens, courtyard, and prayer halls. I was particularly amazed by the men’s prayer hall, which featured a massive hand-woven Persian carpet, a blue and gold qibla wall with intricate honeycomb-esque mosaic designs, and an 8.5-ton crystal chandelier(!) While it was exciting to connect visually with the space, I was equally interested in the ways in which the layout and composition of the mosque shaped our physical experience. At one point, we were prompted to place our shoes in a wall of wooden cubbies and walk barefoot across the polished marble courtyard outside of the prayer hall. It was amazing to engage so intimately with a building of that scale. The opera house was similarly remarkable in its size and style. While the concept of an opera house initially sparked debate within Oman’s leadership due to its ‘Western’ connotations, several features of the building celebrate artistic traditions associated with the Middle East. For instance, pointed archways frame each entrance and exit, and the wooden box seats inside the main performance hall mimic antique Omani chests.

See below for some photos of these incredible landmarks!