The National Museum of Oman should be one of the must-see on your agenda while visiting Oman. It is indeed a treasure trove that takes one on a mystical journey into Oman’s glorious past.
Have you been strolling along Old Muscat, Muttrah corniche, and the winding lanes at Sidab, but never visited the National Museum of Oman that stands in stature right opposite the Al Alam Palace, a popular spot for tourists and visitors? If yes, you surely have missed the best. So decide fast and discover a magical experience in the heart of Muttrah.
From a 2mm bead to a 3metre wide beehive tomb, from crude hunting tools to majestic copper cannons, from ancient stone anchors to reconstructed timber dhows, the National Museum of Oman has over 7000 stunning exhibits, spanning two million years of human presence in the Oman peninsula, on display.
The museum, which was officially inaugurated in December 2015, was opened to the public in April 2016. However, institutional tours for schools, colleges, universities and other private undertakings were conducted from January 2016.
Director of the museum, Jamal al Moosawi, had described the museum as a one of its kind treasure, saying, “The National Museum of Oman is an encyclopaedic museum in its scope dedicated to specifically showcasing and promoting the cultural heritage of Oman from the outset of human presence all the way to the present day. It is the first museum in Oman to meet the guidelines and standards set up by the International Council of Museums (ICON).”
A great degree of planning had been envisaged over a period exceeding nine years for this project. As far as the architecural programme was concerned, there was an international main consultant who worked closely with the Royal Court Affairs to ensure that certain standards were met in terms of architectural aesthetics, given the particular requirements of the location near the Al Alam Palace.
An international fit out contractor was appointed to handle the fit out programme, a local construction company carried out the construction works while and array of Omani and international experts were engaged in developing a unique museographical (method of classification and display of exhibits) programme, Moosawi disclosed.
Housed in a grand new building facing the Al Alam Palace, in old Muscat, the National Museum has a string of firsts to its credit. It is the first museum in Oman to have an affiliated learning centre with its own programme and curriculum. It is also the first to adopt braille script in Arabic for the visually impaired, besides introducing many concepts of interpretation that are new to Oman.
The overall experience covers 15 gallery spaces, about 7000 exhibits, 43 digitally immersive experiences, including a UHD cinema to seat 100 visitors, besides touch screens and audio devices. All of these puts the National Museum on par with the leading international museums.
Cultural heritae on display
“In terms of the storyline, we have adopted a new philosphical approach whereby the chronological aspects of our cultural heritage are combined with the thematic aspects. This chronothematic approach allows us to provide multidimensional facets of interpretation to a given object and to introduce themes in their time contexts,” Moosawi explained.
In line with international best practices, due consideration has also been given to circulation, visitor movement within the building, gallery layout, introduction of supporting facilities for the objects, such as conservation, restoration, storage, quarantine, temporary storage and acclimatisation rooms, besides other administration requirements and access for disabled visitors.
The fifteen galleries include various themes, including Earth and Man, Maritime History, Weapons, Cultural Achievements, Aflaj, Coins, Pre-history and Ancient Ages, Oman and the Outer World, the Majesty of Islam and the Renaissance Era. There is also a hall for temporary exhibitions, an education centre and a lecture hall equipped with integrated equipment and learning systems for people with special needs and students of various ages.
A select number of the best objects recovered from the Vasco da Gama shipwreck site near Al Hallaniyah island, off Dhofar, are also on display at one section of the museuem.
The fascinating objects on display in the various galleries include an aray of archaeologial finds spanning two million years of human presence in Oman spread over three archaeological periods – the Early Paleolithic (2,000,000 – 3,100BCE), the Bronze Age (3,100 – 1,300BCE) and the Iron Age (1,300BCE – 629CE).
From samples of Omani chlorite and layered deposits of fish remains, to ancient weapons, pottery, jewellery, clothing, musical instruments, and other artefacts that represent the way of life in Oman, there is much to convey the Omani way of life.
The smallest object on display is a tiny bead weighing about 2gm while the biggest is a beehive tomb weighing 17 tonnes, reconstructed to represent the beehive tombs of Bat, al Ayn and al Khutm in northern Oman that date back to 3000 – 2000 BCE.
Visitors who do not have enough time to go through 15 galleries, can view an ultra high definition production (15 minutes in Arabic and 12 minutes in English) which sums up the key cultural aspects of Oman, from the outset of human presence till the present day, covering two million years.
The best international practices in museum security have also been employed, as defined by ICOM in order to provide visitors a positive experience while visiting the museum.
The museum has been complimented for the superior experience it offers visitors, as well as for striking a balance between the display of original objects and digitally immersive experiences, by two prominent figures in the field who are on the board of trustees. These are Mikhail Piotrovsky, director general of the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia and Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Tate, UK’s topmost art museum.