The sultan of Oman holds several palaces around the country, and one of the most important of them all, even if it is not his regular residence, is the Al Alam Palace in Muscat. An almost fanciful and rather modern structure, the palace as it is now was constructed in 1972, but the original structure was actually erected over two centuries ago. The name of the edifice is Arabic: it translates to “The Flag”, which is a decidedly appropriate designation given the functions for which the palace is used. This is, after all, the ceremonial palace that the sultan uses to host meetings with dignitaries and other members of royalty-such as Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Queen Elizabeth II of England-when they come to visit the country.
The palace is a sumptuous structure: there can be no doubt about it. A blend of modern and traditional Islamic architectural cues, it has an almost cubic central building fronted by four gold and blue trumpet-like pillars (with the flared ends pointing up) supporting the roof where it projects forward and beyond the front façade. The black wrought iron gates, both on the exterior and interior, bear shield bosses of shining metal endowed with the national emblem: three crossed daggers with the central dagger being the famous khanjar and its belt, and hovering above them the crown representing the sultanate, which also has a smaller reproduction of the trio of crossed daggers.
The courtyard as well as the walkway leading to the palace are faintly reminiscent of Persian and old Mughal garden construction, with a great attention to the careful allocation of space and detail that may even be described as geometric. There are terraces of the most vibrant flowers flanking the path to the inner gates, and when the plants come into bloom, they look like charming steps of pink, purple, and crimson lining the pathway. The main boulevard, a little farther away, is wide and extremely spacious as well as almost ludicrously clean. There are pillar-like topiaries forming a dotted line and spaced at regular intervals on the path, planted in square spaces where the gleaming tiles covering the rest of the boulevard are absent.
While the Al Alam Palace is not actually open to the general public, its outer grounds are nevertheless open regularly and offer a superbly tranquil walking area if you desire to promenade for a few minutes and take in the beauty of both the carefully sculpted and manicured grounds as well as that of the palace itself. The inner grounds are not overly large, so visitors can actually get extremely close to the main doors of the palace itself by peering through the inner gate. If you do go, keep an eye out for the left side of the inner grounds: locals say that the sultan may be seen walking to the mosque found there when he is in residence, as a way of allowing the population to see him.