The capital of Zanzibar – to go or not to go, that’s the question
Координаты / 6° 8′ 0″ S, 39° 19′ 0″ E
Страна / Tanzania
Регион / Zanzibar
Население / 1 303 569
Stone Town, Ancient city, Zanzibar are the names of the oldest district of the capital of the island of Unguja, part of the Zanzibar archipelago.
Since 2000 the bricks and cobblestones of the stone city, like other beautiful and ancient locations, have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The point of view:
However, do not expect too much from this city. Painted unpretentious white houses of one or two floors. Peeling from time to time dangerous rickety walls, which are visible to the naked eye, so much so that there is a fear that one of the fragments of this World Heritage Site could fall on the one’s head. Add to this, the narrow streets, sharp turns and many motorcyclists show that pedestrians are not a priority here. “No – this is not Rio de Janeiro” to quote one of the heroes of the book by the Soviet writers Ilf and Petrov, who envisaged a life of prosperity and glitter.
But there is something in this part-Arabic, part-Indian, part-African, part-European and post-colonial city. Some kind of ancient atmosphere – a little Babylon, in which everything is mixed and one can not figure out who is who. So, let’s unwrap this “mini Zanzibar” and look at its hidden treasures.
Portrait of a city dweller:
During a walk through the Stone Town, you will meet many people, most of them will be native inhabitants.
In the faces of half of the people encountered, you will guess their African origins, the other half might have Indian and Persian roots, very few Europeans, most likely, tourists. Each of them, with few exceptions, are able to have a reasonable conversation in English. Equally, you will hear a lot of Swahili and a little Arabic.
The hair of the townswomen will be covered with kerchiefs of various colours and sizes, sometimes these scarves will hide their faces, and their dresses will cover the whole body from the neck, to the wrists and feet.
Men prefer to dress trousers and shirts of light dusty shade, whether this is because of the street dust or because of the frequent washing needed. Their heads will be adorned with caps or Arabic fezzes.
Wherever you go the townspeople will most likely be friendly and the children will not be able to hide their interest, staring at the funniest, in their opinion, elements of your clothing or appearance.
Perhaps they’ll wave and greet you with “hello” or “Hakuna Matata”, which means some kind of greeting in Swahili. Answer this with a relaxed reciprocated smile and continue on your exploration.
Once in Stone Town in the late afternoon, when very young schoolgirls in colourful kerchiefs and schoolboys in short trousers pour into the streets – take care and remain calm.They will not knock you down, but definitely, greet you with a joke grabbing your hands and clothes. Do not say that we didn’t warn you.
The history of Stone Town is typical for the trading of the past. A small and unremarkable town has existed here for several centuries.
The age of discovery has broken this serenity. Because of the location, trade routes from Africa to Asia rapid development took place, followed by colonization by Tanzania on the mainland.
At the end of the 19th century, the city became the capital of the Oman Empire – a prosperous period which added “Swahili architecture” to what later became a World Heritage Site. With its mixture of Arabic, Persian, Indian and European elements, Stone Town became the centre of the spice and slave trades.
In 1964, Zanzibar experienced a revolution that interrupted the lives of the 20,000 residents, during which time the socialist party overthrow the ruling sultan. A rich population being basically, Arabs and Indians hurriedly left the island.
Their assets and real estate were nationalized by the ruling party.
Overlooking the rooftops of Stone Town:
The narrow streets of Stone Town, turn its heart into endless labyrinths of turns, small squares and dead ends.
For the same reason, it is difficult to view and appreciate any building over two storeys. Due to its compact nature, a visit to the roof of the “Swahili house” with its almost unique elevator is recommended. Here we find a cosy restaurant where the cool breeze flutters the linen curtains, the spacious and clean décor opens up the city with its old splendour.
While our Tanzanian coffee is brewing, let’s look at the surroundings and here’s what we see:
1. The Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church – the cathedral was build in the 19th century on the site, which used to be one for the largest markets for the slave trade on the island The altar is situated on the very spot where slaves were whipped as punishment. Behind the temple, there is a memorial and a slave trade museum.
2. In the late 19th century, French missionaries built one of the most beautiful buildings in the city – the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph. The appearance of its façade was borrowed from the Marseilles Cathedral in France. The spire of the cathedral is even visible from the sea. For those tourists, who wish there is a mass held on Sundays.
3. “The House of Wonders” is another of the cities high buildings with a characteristic turret and clock. it is the calling card of Stone Town. Before the revolution it served as the residence of the Sultan, later the Afro-Shirazi Party took up residence. The house was one of the first to have electricity and an operational elevator, which local residents considered a true miracle.
4. The Old Fort or the Fort of Oman, was built in the 17th century as a fortified structure to repel the attacks of Europeans who came from the sea. Situated next to “The House of Wonders” it is square shaped with an open area, where cultural events and festivals are held.
5. The Old Dispensary was built with the help of a wealthy merchant from India for charitable purposes. Here they helped beggars and homeless people. This building should not be overlooked and should not be passed by, as its façade is richly decorated with carved wooden ornaments in neo-classic style.
6. The restored Palace of the Sultan is a museum where one can see the life of the rulers of Zanzibar.
7. The Forodhani Gardens is a park on the embankment near the walls of Stone Town, which were laid out in the middle of the 19th century in honour of Sultan Khalif. Recently, it has recently being become famously re-innovated at a cost of 3 million dollars by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Young people gather here and every evening there is a street food festival which specifically aimed at the tourist market.
Inside the Old Town:
To be honest, we did not go to any museum in the city but chose to wander around, soak up the atmosphere and discover local life.
1. In the house where Freddie Mercury was born, there was nothing left of his former home, but at the entrance posters and photographs of the musician left one of his origins.
2. On the same street, where the idol of millions Mercury grew up, a lot of jewellery and folk craft’s shops located.
Knowledgeable people buy Tanzanite, a precious stone reminiscent of sapphire from the local jewellers. The Tanzanite originates from the foothills of Kilimanjaro.
3. Visiting the Darajani food market in the old town became a very curious adventure. Its first section is fruits, vegetables, spices and roots – with a typical aroma of an Arabian market.
The fish and meat section is not a delight for sensitive noses. Only one member of our team finished the tour of this section. The heat, meat, flies have done their job.
So called, Jaw’s corner in the old town is the area where testosterone fueled the Stone Town. Men come to argue about local and world politics. Everybody considers themselves an expert so it is better to be a spectator rather than a participant.
World famous wooden doors is a good reason to come to Stone Town. All, even the most inconspicuous house of the old city has its own unique door. it is believed that the doors with square shutters in smaller sections are Indian style, often they have the shape of an arch and can be decorated with metal spikes, which have the function of protecting the door from elephants. But in Zanzibar are used only for decorative purposes. The Arabian style doors have more carved fragments, they are often decorated with a fragment from Koran and other Muslim symbols.
We have a whole collection of such doors, see here
In order to see Stone Town, you do not need to stay for the night. Most tourists choose their accommodation on the azure coasts away from the hustle and bustle, spending 5-6 hours exploring the city after arriving by taxi or public transport.
Impressions of Stone Town can be supplemented by a trip to the Prison island, where the Seychelles tortoises live. Visitors are greeted by beautiful views and can visit the slave prison museum.
More photos about Stone Town watch below.