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Pictures tell a story and these photographs from Bait Al Baranda show the changing face of Muscat over the years
Words: Joe Gill
No landscape remains the same forever, but in the modern history of Oman, the physical changes wrought have been dramatic.
In fact, since the start of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos’s reign, it is hard at times to believe you are looking at the same place when you compare photographs taken from different times.
But in the same way that the North Star guides a sailor as the sky changes at night, so the mountains over Muscat remain unaltered and tell us, yes, we are looking at the same place.
So it is for these photographs on display at Bait Al Baranda Museum in Muttrah, courtesy of Muscat Municipality.
When we look at these old photos of Muscat, the experience is both disorientating and revelatory. Only the shape of the bay and mountains tell us that we are definitely looking at Oman’s capital.
His Majesty’s reign began in 1970, a year before a young Said bin Saif bin Salim al Harrassi came to Muscat from Nakhal, a village near Barka.
He was born in 1953, and is old enough to remember how it was in the old days. “Life in the 1960s was very difficult,” he recalls. “It got easier after His Majesty came to power. If you speak to our parents they will tell you how hard it was back then.
“There were no good roads, no hospitals and no schools. There was no air conditioning in our houses. Some people left the country.
“We lived in a small village. You would hear about places like Seeb but you could not go there because there were no roads. A truck would sometimes come delivering dates or other goods. You could pay the driver something and he would take you with him to Barka. Mostly we had to use camels or donkeys.”
Al Harrassi’s first job in Muscat was working for a British construction company in the early 1970s, building roads and the university. He then became a storeman at the new airport in 1976.
Al Harrassi remembers the time before the building of hospitals when a car would come to the villages twice a year bringing a doctor. “The Sheikh would call everyone to his house so they could get injections and medicines. If someone was seriously ill they would have to go to Muttrah to be seen by Dr Thomas at the mission hospital.”
Normally mothers would give birth at home. Four decades later, maternal services ensure mothers can give birth safely at modern hospitals across the country.
“Our hearts started to open up after 1971. I thank God for all the changes we have seen. When I was young I supported my country. I served in His Majesty’s army for 26 years and even today, I am ready to fight for my country.
“There have been so many changes. The community has become stronger, life is easier. I used to love my country, but now I love it more.”