At the heart of Old Muscat is Al Alam Palace (“Flag Palace”), the most important of the six royal residences of the ruling monarch, Sultan Qaboos, which are dotted around Muscat, Salalah and Sohar. Built in 1972, the palace is Oman’s most flamboyant example of contemporary Islamic design, with two long wings centred on a colourful, cube-like central building, its flat, overhanging roof supported by extravagantly flared blue and gold columns. The palace isn’t open to the public, although you can get a good view of the facade from the iron gates at the front.
The palace complex is impressively stage-managed, approached via a long pedestrianized boulevard framed by two arcaded colonnades, with copious amounts of highly polished marble covering every available surface. On either side stretches a cluster of impressive government buildings: huge, snow-white edifices sporting crenellated rooftops, traditional wooden balconies and window shutters. Look right as you approach the palace and you’ll also see a fine section of the original city walls snaking up the hillside, punctuated with three large watchtowers en route.