Whiffs of history continue to waft in the corridors of the picturesque Muttrah Souq, beckoning even old timers to come and relive its vibrant richness
If old is indeed gold, Muttrah Souq is a mandoos overflowing with the precious metal. Believed to be one of the oldest marketplaces in the Arabian world, it encapsulates the laidback life of the days gone by and resonates the old world charm that remains captured in its labyrinthine alleys and wooden roof.
Although the shops retain the same flavours and the wide products are mainly designed to cater to tourists, the Souq is a constant fixture in the itinerary of travellers as well as residents who keep making a date with this popular Corniche destination, when driving off to the desert or the mountains is not appealing.
With little coffee shops and eateries dotting this striking Corniche area, it is a perfect weekend (and even weekday) spot with its share of beach, park, fort, museums and even unending series of shopping within and outside the Souq. A quick stroll inside this quaintly designed maze of shops establishes the fact that it has and will remain a major point of contact for all who have a relationship with the city. It continues to remain popular; it can be easily discerned in the endless stream of cars that cruise the stretch in search of a spot to park. If a fully occupied parking lot is any indication of the popularity of a place, Muttrah Souq and the Corniche win with a long margin.
The Souq has, over the years, undergone renovations (mainly to ensure rainwaters did not hamper the activities of the Souq or cause damages for the shopkeepers), but the structure and the profile of the shops has remained almost constant, retaining that element of familiarity for regulars. It is the palpable bygone spirit of the Souq that draws locals, expatriates and tourists to this striking destination.
The Souq is accessible from the main Corniche area as well as the congested Muttrah, where shops and old homes make movement of cars difficult, especially during the busy hours.
With items ranging from gold to vegetables, the Souq is a veritable shoppers’ den. Serious shoppers can look for bargain deals on items including gold and silver antique pieces, frankincense and myrrh, sheesha pipes, ceramics and pottery, woven baskets, spices and dates, dishdashas and embroidered kummars, carpets, walking sticks, handicraft items, and artefacts, in addition to household goods, electronic items, chunky beaded costume jewellery, and colourful handbags and shoes. What makes shopping interesting here is the possibility of haggling, which has not waned despite modernisation making fixed price the norm elsewhere.
There is a touch of leisureliness in all the proceedings within this maze, whether you are a shopper or a casual visitor. Most are, in fact, content to simply window shop and experience the magic of suspending reality within its arched entryway. Come evening and the distinctly adorned dome in one section of the Souq tends to attract seniors who have seen life pass them by as they sipped coffee and exchanged greetings in a scene reminiscent of the days gone by.
Until the 1970s, the Souq acted as a meeting point for traders from Asia and Africa and camel caravans were unloaded in front of it. However, in those days the Souq itself comprised of shops made with mud and leaves and the place resembled a village corner with men meeting up to chat and drink kahwa. That the scene can still be vividly captured in the present day Souq adds to the charm of the place. For despite the presence of large shopping malls in and around the capital, most locals come shopping here, especially during feasts.
The closely woven matchbox size shops on both sides of the winding alleyways are beckoning, even if shopping is the last thing on one’s mind. A long stroll from the arch entrance through to the arteries of alleys that take one from artefacts to toys and gadgets is perfect if you are seeking to leave all things modern outside the bounds of the Souq and experience sights and sounds that ring in tune to the history that it has been witness to. It is deceptively large and you could while away an entire evening simply walking along the alleys of shops.