Of the various small museums scattered about Old Muscat, easily the most interesting is the Bait al Zubair (pronounced “Zubeer”; w), with wide-ranging exhibits relating to Omani culture, customs and craftsmanship, all collected over the years by the Zubair family, who still own and run the museum.
The museum is spread across three separate buildings. The bulk of the collection is concentrated in the Bait al Bagh (“Garden House”), a large, white but not particularly exciting building dating from 1914, when it served as a former Zubair family residence. Displays include antique khanjars and firearms, as well as assorted household articles ranging from coffeepots to kohl holders and a good selection of traditional clothing and jewellery (look out for the ingenious salwa, a style of necklace worn by unmarried girls – the main “jewel” is actually a recycled bicycle reflector). Exiting the rear door of the building brings you into the surrounding gardens, where you’ll find a traditional barasti majlis and a falaj, along with an entertaining Omani-style model village.
Diagonally opposite the Bait al Bagh stands the Bait Dalaleel, where you’ll find the museum’s coffee shop along with a little cluster of rooms quaintly refurbished in traditional Omani style. Opposite the Bait Dalaleel stands the third of the museum’s trio of buildings, the Bait al Oud (“Grand House”). The ground floor is used for temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. Upstairs, the first floor has interesting displays of old maps and wooden models of traditional dhows. Next door, a large room is stuffed full of an eye-catching array of household items from the original home of Sheikh al Zubair bin Ali. The second floor houses a random assortment of displays, including black and white photos from the late nineteenth century (unlabelled, unfortunately), and rooms full of old Islamic coins and historic prints.