Magical AL HAMRA is one of the best-preserved old towns in Oman, with a warren of stony, rubble-strewn alleyways lined with endless traditional mudbrick houses tumbling down the hillside to the idyllic oasis below; it’s hauntingly time-warped, although as throughout the rest of Oman these old dwellings are now being systematically abandoned.
Much of the pleasure of a visit here simply consists of getting lost amid the winding streets, although there are a couple of low-key attractions to head for, close to one another on the main street which runs through the bottom of the old town. Best of the two is the Bait al Safah, a kind of living museum of old Oman occupying an exquisitely restored traditional house done up with old artefacts and traditional furnishings. It gives a nice (although perhaps rather sanitized) impression of what these houses might originally have looked like, while a few jolly old ladies from the town sit around baking bread, grinding coffee and flour, and so on.
Close by lies the Beit al Jabal, also on the main street through the bottom of the old town. Occupying another of Al Hamra’s traditional houses, this is a much less manicured offering than Bait al Safah, with rough-hewn mudbrick walls and rickety steps – very atmospheric, and probably a lot more authentic as well. Unfortunately, the entrance price is a rip-off and there’s not much to actually see apart from a dusty collection of not particularly interesting antiques and curios, including the usual old swords, coins, pots and suchlike.