One of my favorite places back home in the Philippines is Quiapo and its surrounding markets, its dirt, noise, and chaos is nothing compared to the posh malls of Manila but I bask in the variety and bargain it has to offer. Plus the fact that I think that flea markets can be a central location to studying a country’s culture as well as finding great discoveries.
In the Arab world, markets are called Souqs and like in Quiapo, everything that represents a country can be found such markets. When we were in Libya my not having a car only made me visit the Old Souq a couple of times, and even so, I was truly amazed every time I visit. I am reminded of Babalhiriya in the Old Town, wherein remnants of Roman ruins can still be found in nooks and corners all around the walled city. When I stayed in Tunisia, the Souq in Djerba was not as big and as historical as in Libya but what made that one great were the friendly locals manning their stores. JG who has travelled to Turkey boasts of having visited what he believes is the biggest Souq in the world.
So it wasn’t really a surprise when I grabbed the chance to visit Muscat’s Matrah Souq. Unlike the beach, I was disappointed to find out that I lived fairly far from the said Souq. I had hoped that I would be able to visit such a place as often as I did Quiapo back home. My having a car is still not an answer to my logistical concerns as driving there can be a bit scary as I have to go through some major highways to get there. Not to mention the fact that JG discourages me to go to places wherein major possible spending may take place. But I digress…
So when the opportunity came for me to go, I hurriedly took the chance. And Matrah Souq was no disappointment. What made it stand out for me was that unlike the ones in Tripoli and Djerba, the place was really clean and orderly, plus the fact that the interior had some great detailing and furnishing including wooden ceiling panels and tainted glass ceilings which were really an impressive touch.
One of the first things that I read about Oman was that it was a country that was very much concerned about showing off their art and culture, and such designs in their souqs is to me a testament to that characteristic.
Like most Arab countries one of the commonly sold in their Souqs are scarves and pashminas. Ever since JG brought me my first one from Istanbul, and since living in Libya I have become a scarf/pashmina feign and now have an assorted collection and truly believes that one cannot have too many. One of the first stores we went to was manned by a young guy who was very keen on hard selling his products but did it a very personal and friendly manner that we could not help but come back and buy from him. Not to mention the fact that he gave us a good deal. I also learned a lot about such garments, as to why some of them were hella-expensive. As it turns out the pricey ones come from the wool shaved from the softest parts of a sheep like its neck and belly areas, as well as how intricate the sewed designs are. Of course I really couldn’t afford the really pretty and soft ones but was happy with my purchase nevertheless.
Another major highlight that can be found in Matrah Souq are Myrrh and Frankincense made famous by the three wise men who visited the baby Jesus in the stables and brought such priceless gifts in honor of the prophesied Messiah. Aside from Gold, the two gifts that are always mentioned during Christmas were really a mystery to me. I’ve always wondered what they looked like and 20 odd years later I finally get to see some.
So in case you don’t know Frankincense is an aromatic resin from Boswellia trees, while Myrrh is also a hydrocarbon secretion of a thorny plant.
“Religious ritual across the Mediterranean and the East depended and, in places, still depends, upon thick, sweet frankincense smoke to transport supplications heavenwards.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/middle-east/oman-going-for-gold-frankincense-and-myrrh-1844723.html)
Now aside from religious practices, store owners also swear to the affectivity of burning Myrrh and Frankincense when used as a mosquito repellant.
And like all Souqs, the one in Matrah is no exemption to finding anything Arabic…