Oman's newest museum aims to attract tourists to the sultanate's historical cities.
The Oman Across Ages Museum is in Manah, the country's capital in the 16th century, and just 15 minutes by car from the ancient city of Nizwa.
The museum's foundation stone was laid by the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said in 2015. His vision was of an interactive museum that showed Oman’s heritage and achievements during the renaissance period, along with the country's geology and topography.
“Manah is the old capital city of Oman and is close to some iconic heritage and cultural sites in the country such as forts, castles, aflaj and old villages,” the museum's director general Al Yaqdhan Al Harthi told The National.
“If you look at Oman’s map, Manah is in the centre, just an hour and half drive from Muscat in the heart of Oman’s interior.”
Over the centuries, Oman has been influenced by numerous cultures — Arab, Persian, African, and others — all of which have left lasting imprints giving rise to a unique and vibrant society that is rich in heritage.
The new museum offers a glimpse into this fascinating history, as well as more modern achievements.
With a design inspired by the Al Hajar Mountains, it covers 300,000 square metres with a complex of buildings making up 66,591 square metres of that space.
Mr Al Harthi visited museums across the world for inspiration.
“The Middle East region has made several strides in the last few years in showcasing its rich heritage and culture,” he said.
“While we were working on the Oman Across Ages Museum, I visited the Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre in Kuwait, the National Museum of Qatar, the Etihad Museum in the UAE and museums in Singapore, China and Hong Kong.”
Mr Al Harthi wants visitors to learn all about Oman's history, geology and achievements
“The museum consists of a complex of buildings, including the permanent exhibition, a multipurpose hall, a knowledge centre, an auditorium, coffee shops, retail stores and other open spaces.” he said.
“The permanent exhibition has two main galleries, the history gallery and the renaissance gallery that showcase Oman's chronological and thematic routes respectively.”
Mr Al Harthi, whose background is in civil engineering, has been involved with the museum project since 2013 and involved in all aspects of its creation.
In recent years he has overseen the collection, storyline, conservation work, structure, and policies of the museum.
“What makes our museum unique is the homogeneity element. We started conceptualising our museum from the inside first and then became concerned with the exterior design,” he said.
To ensure a unique architecture, the museum management committee organised a competition open to architecture firms across the globe.
“We received six entries as part of the competition and eventually decided to go with a design inspired by mountains and one that represents Oman and its essence,” he added.
Oman's history spans millennia. The country's unique topography and geography, ranging from rugged mountains to open beaches and vast deserts, have profoundly shaped the lifestyle of its people.
“We attract a lot of tourists during the winter seasons to Nizwa and surrounding areas because we have beautiful mountains such as the famous Jabal Akhdar and Jabal Shams, and iconic forts including the Nizwa Fort,” said Mr Al Harthi.
“Manah is the ideal location for the museum, as it brings tourists to more interior areas of Oman, giving them an authentic feel and understanding of the Omani heritage. The project helps in decentralising tourism and aims to support the development of big projects in the interiors of Oman that have enormous potential for tourism.”
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The location of the museum also serves as a stop for tourists from the Gulf on their way to Salalah during Khareef, as they usually pass the city of Nizwa during their drive.
The museum’s history gallery features a timeline starting from the geology and the formation of Oman, moving towards the stone age, bronze age, iron age and Islamic period, with information about the ruling dynasties. The renaissance gallery focuses on education, economy, media and communications, and external and internal policies of Oman.
Among the artefacts on display is an 800 million year-old granite block, an elephant jaw found in the southern region of Dhofar, and tools used in the stone age.
The museum also houses pieces that have been acquired on loan from the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
“The museum is a starting point for future projects in the interior regions of Oman. For now, we want young people to come here and enjoy their time by learning about Oman in an interactive and engaging way,” Mr Al Harthi said.
Oman's ruler, Sultan Haitham, has been heavily involved in the project.
“Sultan Haitham had a strong vision for this museum, and he was incredibly supportive and worked closely with the project team from the beginning,” Mr Al Harthi said.
“I invite everyone to visit this architectural marvel and become acquainted with the story of Oman. We have a lot to offer in terms of history, cultural heritage, an array of topographies, immense natural beauty and various landforms, food, architecture, adventure activities, exquisite hotels and, to top it all, our famous Omani hospitality.”