The rocky Western Al Hajar Mountains dominate the landscape of Muscat. The city lies on the Arabian Sea along the Gulf of Oman and is in the proximity of the strategic Straits of Hormuz. Low-lying white buildings typify most of Muscat's urban landscape, while the port-district of Muttrah, with its corniche and harbour, form the north-eastern periphery of the city. Muscat's economy is dominated by trade, petroleum and porting.
The origin of the word Muscat is disputed. Some authors claim that the work has Arabic origins – from moscha, meaning an inflated hide or skin. Other authors claim that the name Muscat means anchorage or the place of "letting fall the anchor". Other derivations include muscat from Old Persian, meaning strong-scented, or Arabic meaning falling-place, or meaning hidden
The port fell to a Sassanid invasion in the 3rd century CE, under the rule of Shapur I., while conversion to Islam occurred during the 6th century. Muscat's importance as a trading port continued to grow in the centuries that followed, under the influence of the Azd dynasty, a local tribe. The establishment of the First Imamate in the ninth century CE was the first step in consolidating disparate Omani tribal factions under the banner of an Ibadi state. However, tribal skirmishes continued, allowing the Abbasids of Baghdad to conquer Oman. The Abbasids occupied the region until the 11th century, when they were driven out by the local Yahmad tribe. Power over Oman shifted from the Yahmad tribe to the Azdi Nabahinah clan, during whose rule, the people of coastal ports such as Muscat prospered from maritime trade and close alliances with the Indian subcontinent, at the cost of the alienation of the people of the interior of Oman.
The Portuguese conquistador Afonso de Albuquerque attacked Muscat in July, 1507. A bloody battle ensued between the Portuguese and forces loyal to the Persian governor of the city. After the fall of the town, Albuquerque massacred most of the remaining inhabitats – men, women and children, following which the town was occupied and pillaged. The Portuguese maintained a hold on Muscat for over a century, despite challenges from Persia and a bombardment of the town by the Turks in 1546. . The election of Nasir bin Murshid al-Yaribi as Imam of Oman in 1624 changed the balance of power again in the region, from the Persians and the Portuguese to local Omanis. On August 16, 1648 the Imam dispatched an army to Muscat, which captured and demolished the high towers of the Portuguese, weakening their grip over the town. Decisively, in 1650, a small but determined body of the Imam's troops attacked the port at night, forcing an eventual Portuguese surrender on January 23, 1650. A civilian war, and repeated incursions by the Perisan king Nadir Shah in the 18th century destabilised the region, and further strained relations between the interior and Muscat. This power vacuum in Oman led to the emergence of the Al Bu Sa‘id dynasty dynasty, which has ruled Oman ever since.
Muscat's naval and military supremacy was reestablished in the 19th century by Said bin Sultan, who gained control over Zanzibar, eventually moving his kingdom there. During the second half of the 19th century, the fortunes of the Al Bu Sa`id declined and friction with the Imams of the interior resurfaced. Muscat and Muttrah were attacked by tribals from the interior in 1895 and again in 1915. A tentative ceasefire was brokered by the British, which gave the interior more autonomy. However, conflicts among the disparate tribes of the interior, and with the Sultan of Muscat and Oman continued into the 1950s, and eventually escalated into the Dhofar Rebellion (1962). The rebellion forced the Sultan Said bin Taimur to seek the assistance of the British in quelling the uprisings from the interior. The April 26, 1966 failed assassination attempt on Said bin Taimur led to the further isolation of the Sultan, who had moved his residence from Muscat to Salalah, amidst the civilian armed conflict. On July 23, 1970, Qaboos bin Said, son of the Sultan, staged a bloodlesscoup d'état in the Salalah palace with the assistance of the British, and took over as ruler.
With the assistance of the British, Qaboos bin Said put an end to the Dhofar uprising and consolidated disparate tribal territories. He renamed the country the Sultanate of Oman (called Muscat and Oman hiterto), in an attempt to end to the interior's isolation from Muscat. Qaboos enlisted the services of capable Omanis to fill positions in his new government , drawing from such corporations as Petroleum Development Oman (PDO). New ministries for social services such as health and education were established. The construction of Mina Qaboos, a new port conceived initially by Sa`id bin Taimur, was developed during the early days of Qaboos' rule. Similary, a new international airport was developed in Muscat's Seeb district. A complex of offices, warehouses, shops and homes transformed the old village of Ruwi in Muttrah into a commercial district. The first five-year development plan in 1976 emphasised infrastructural development of Muscat, which provided new opportunities for trade and tourism in the 1980s – 1990s, attracting migrants from around the region. On June 6, 2007, Cyclone Gonu hit Muscat caused extensive damage to property, infrastructure and commercial activity.
Muscat is located in northeast Oman, at . The Tropic of Cancer passes south of the area. It is bordered to its west by the plains of the Al Batinah Region and to its east by Ash Sharqiyah Region. The interior plains of the Ad Dakhiliyah Region border Muscat to the south, while the Gulf of Oman forms the northern and western periphery of the city. The water along to coast of Muscat runs deep, forming two natural harbours, in Muttrah and Muscat. The Western Al Hajar Mountains run through the northern coastline of the city.
Volcanic rocks are apparent in the Muscat area, and are composed of serpentine and diorite, extending along the Gulf of Oman coast for ten or twelve from the district of Darsait to Yiti. Plutonic rocks constitute the hills and mountains of Muscat and span approximately from Darsait to Ras Jissah. These igneous rocks consists of serpentine, greenstone and basalt, typical of rocks in Southeastern regions of the Arabian Peninsula. South of Muscat, the volcanic rock strata is broken up and distorted, rising to a maximum height of , in Al Dakhiliyah, a region which includes Jebel Akhdar, the country's highest range. The hills in Muscat are mostly devoid of vegetation but are rich in iron.
The halophytic sabkha type desert vegetation is predominant in Muscat. The Qurum Nature Reserve contains plants such as the Arthrocnemum Macrostachyum and Halopeplis Perfoliata Coral reefs are common in Muscat. Acropora reefs exist in the sheltered bays of the satellite towns of Jussah and Khairan . Additionally, smaller Porites reef colonies exist in Khairan, which have fused to form a flat-top pavement is visible at low tide. Crabs and spiny crayfish are found in the waters of the Muscat area, as are sardines and bonito. Glassfish are common in freshwater estuaries, such as the Qurum Nature Reserve.
The Al Sultan Qaboos Street forms the main artery of Muscat, running west-to-east through the city. The street eventually becomes Al Wahdah Street near Al Wattayah. Several inter-city roads such as Nizwa Road and Al Amrat Road intersect with Al Sultan Qaboos Road (in Rusail and Ruwi, respectively). Muttrah, with the Muscat Harbour, Corniche, and Mina Qaboos is located in the north-eastern coastline of the city, adjacent to the Gulf of Oman. Other coastal districts of Muscat include Darsait, Mina Al Fahal, Ras Al Hamar, Al Qurum Heights, Al Khuwair and Al Seeb. Residential and commercial districts further inland include Al Hamriyah, Al Wadi Al Kabir, Ruwi, Al Wattayah, Madinat Qaboos and Al Azaiba.
Annual rainfall in Muscat averages 10 cm (4 in), falling mostly in January. The climate generally is very hot, with temperatures reaching 54°C (129°F) in the hot season, from May to October.
Mina Sultan Qaboos, Muscat's main trading port, is a trading hub between the Persian Gulf, the Indian subcontinent and the Far East with an annual volume of about 1.6 million tons. However, the emergence of the Jebel Ali Free Zone in neighboring Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has made that port the premier maritime trading port of the region with about 44 million tons traded in cargo annually. Many infrastructural facilities are owned and operated by the government of Oman. Omantel is the major telecommunications organization in Oman and provides local, long-distance and international dialing facilities and operates as the country's only ISP. Recent liberalization of the mobile telephone market has seen the establishment of a second provider — Nawras.
The governorate of Muscat comprises six wilayats – Muttrah, Bawshar, Seeb, Al Amrat, Muscat and Qurayyat. Of the wilayats, Seeb, located in the western section of the governorate, was the most populous (with over 220,000 residents), while Muttrah had the highest number of expatriates (with over 100,000). Approximately 71% of the population was within the 15-64 age group, with the average Omani age being 23 years. About 11% of the population is illiterate, an improvement when compared to the 18% illiteracy rate recorded during to 1993 census. Expatriates accounted for over 60% of the labour force dominated by males, who accounted for 80% of the city's total labour. A majority of expatriates (34%) engineering-related occupations, while most Omanis worked in engineering, clerical, scientific or technical fields. The defense sector was the largest employer for Omanis, while construction, wholesale and retail trade employed the largest number of expatriates.
The ethnic makeup of Muscat has historically been influenced by people not native to the Arabian Peninsula. British Parliamentary papers dating back to the 19th century indicate the presence of a significant Hindu Gujarati merchants in the city Indeed, four Hindu temples existed in Muscat ca. 1760 Christianity is thought to have been brought in by the Portuguese in 1507. Protestant missionaries established a hospital in Muscat in the 19th century.
Like the rest of Oman, Arabic is the predominant language of the city. In addition, English, Persian, Swahili and South Asian languages such as Hindi, Gujarati, Malayalam and Urdu are spoken by the residents of Muscat. Islam is the predominant religion in the city, with most followers being Ibadi Muslims. Non-Muslims are allowed to practice their religion, but may not proselytize publicly or distribute religious literature. The city has two Hindu temples – a Shiva temple and a Krishna temple. Churches of several Christian denominations are located in a multi-denominational compound in Ruwi. The Roman Catholic church of Saints Peter and Paul is also located at this location in Ruwi, and a second Roman Catholic church, the Holy Spirit Church, is located in Ghala.
The Muscat area is well serviced by paved roads and dual-carriageway connects most major cities and towns in the country. Public transportation in Muscat does not include rail and bus services are limited in their route coverage. There is no rail or metro network in the country. Several forms of public transport are popular in Oman. Most popular are the "Baiza" buses, so named for the lower denomination of the Omani Rial, the baisa (an adaptation of the Indian lower denomination paisa). These are relatively inexpensive and service all major roadways, as well as a wide and loose network of smaller byways in the greater Muscat metropolitan area, opportunistically dropping off and picking up passengers at any location. Less popular and slightly more expensive are large public buses, coloured red and green, whose service is limited to major roadways and point-to-point travel routes between Oman's major cities and towns. Taxis, also colour-coded orange and white, provide semi-personal transportation in the form of both individual hire and the same opportunistic roadway service as Baiza buses.
Baiza buses and colour-coded orange-and-white taxis are unmetered, after several government initiatives to introduce meters were rejected. The fare is set by way of negotiation, although taxi drivers usually adhere to certain unwritten rules for fares within the city. In many countries, one is advised to negotiate a fare with the driver before getting into a taxi. However, in Oman, asking for the fare beforehand often demonstrates a passenger's newness and unfamiliarity with the area. One should always find out the normally accepted fare for one's journey from one's hotel or host before looking for a taxi. Taxis will also generally take passengers to locations out of the city, including Sohar, Buraimi and Dubai.