Muscat is the capital and largest city in Oman, but tourists will find that the mundane activity of the busy modern capital is easily forgotten among the exotic delights of bustling markets, cannon-guarded forts, ornate palaces and historic city harbour. The once important maritime city underwent a resurgence in the 1970s, when the Sultan Qaboos bin Said began to develop museums, mosques and palaces, and worked to restore relics of Muscat's history.
Muscat is made up of three cities grown together: the original walled city of Muscat (home to the royal palaces); the former fishing village of Matrah with its maze-like souq; and the commercial and diplomatic area of Ruwi. These areas, along with other districts further from the city centre, each have their own distinct personalities and attractions.
Although Muscat is a popular destination for sightseeing tours, many of the attractions are primarily regular fixtures of Omani life. The mosques are important religious sites, the ancient forts are still operated by the military and the sultan's palace is the seat of Oman's government.
The beauty of the city is what makes Muscat so alluring, especially near the harbour. The smooth, curved stone architecture is a transition from the rocky landscape to the inviting water of the harbour. Many new buildings have continued with classic Arabic architecture, further protecting the city's legacy from the ravages of the modern world. Muscat is one of the safest, most cosmopolitan and most open-minded cities in the entire Gulf Region and fast becoming a Middle East tourism hotspot.