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Muscat, Muskat

MUSCAT, MUSKAT or MASKAT, a town on the south-east coast of Arabia, capital of the province of Oman. Its value as a naval base is derived from its position, which commands the entrance to the Persian Gulf. The town of Gwadar, the chief port of Makr5n, belongs to Muscat, and by arrangement with the sultan the British occupy that port with a telegraph station of the Indo-Persian telegraph service. An Indian political residency is established at Muscat. In geographical position it is isolated from the interior of the continent. The mountains rise behind it in a rugged wall, across which no road exists. It is only from Matrah, a northern suburb shut off by an intervening spur which reaches to the sea, that land communication with the rest of Arabia can be maintained. Both Muscat and Matrah are defended from incursions on the landward side by a wall with towers at intervals. Muscat rose to importance with the Portuguese occupation of the Persian Gulf, and is noted for the extent of Portuguese ruins about it. Two lofty forts, of which the most easterly is called Jalali and the western Merani, occupy the summits of hills on either side the cove overlooking the town; and beyond them on the seaward side are two smaller defensive works called Sirat. All these are ruinous. A low sandy isthmus connects the rock and fortress of Jalali with the mainland, and upon this isthmus stands the British residency. The sultan's palace is a three-storeyed building near the centre of the town, a relic of Portuguese occupation, called by the Arabs El Jereza, a corruption of Igrezia (church). This term is probably derived from the chapel once attached to the buildings which formed the Portuguese governor's residence and factory. The bazaar is insignificant, and its most considerable trade appears to be in a sweetmeat prepared from the gluten of maize. Large quantities of dates are also exported.

History. The early history of Muscat is the history of Portuguese ascendancy in the Persian Gulf. When Albuquerque first burnt the place after destroying Karyat in 1508, Kalhat was the chief port of the coast and Muscat was comparatively unimportant. Kalhat was subsequently sacked and burnt, the great Arab mosque being destroyed, before Albuquerque returned to his ships, " giving many thanks to our Lord." From that date, through 114 years of Portuguese ascendancy, Muscat was held as a naval station and factory during a period of local revolts, Arab incursions, and Turkish invasion by sea; but it was not till 1622, when the Portuguese lost Hormuz, that Muscat became the headquarters of their fleet and the most important place held by them on the Arabian coast. In 1650 the Portuguese were finally expelled from Oman. Muscat had been reduced previously by the humiliating terms imposed upon the garrison by the imam of Oman after a siege in 1648. For five years the Persians occupied Oman, but they disappeared in 1741. Under the great ruler of Oman, Said ibn Sultan (1804- 1856), the fortunes of Muscat attained their zenith; but on his death, when his kingdom was divided and the African possessions were parted from western Arabia, Muscat declined. In 1883- 1884, when Turki was sultan, the town was unsuccessfully besieged by the Indabayin and Rehbayin tribes, led by Abdul Aziz, the brother of Turki. In 1885 Colonel Miles, resident at Muscat, made a tour through Oman, following the footsteps of Wellsted in 1835, and confirmed that traveller's report of the fertility and wealth of the province. In 1898 the French acquired the right to use Muscat as a coaling station.

See Stiffe, " Trading Ports of Persian Gulf," vol. ix. Geog. Journal, and the political reports of the Indian government from the Persian Gulf. Colonel Miles's explorations in Oman will be found in vol. vii. Geog. Journal (1896). (T. H. H.*)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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