Exploring Stone Town

Wednesday, April 26, 2023
Zanzibar, Mjini Magharibi Region, Tanzania
We slept in this morning for obvious reasons, but didn’t want to stay abed too long. We had a short time to explore this fascinating place.
Zanzibar has a long history; the earliest recorded era is that of the Omanis and Yemenis who settled here prior to 1400. The Portuguese ruled is for nearly 200 years, then the Sultanate of Oman. In 1890 it became a British protectorate. When it gained its independence in 1963 there was a short-lived Sultanate before a brief civil war and it’s joining to Tanganyika in 1964.
The addition of Zanzibar is what turned the country of Tanganyika into the nation of Tanzania. Zanzibar provided the z. I knew from my reading and a visit about 20 years ago, that Zanzibar was the largest slave market on the East African coast. Slaves were brought here from as far away as the Eastern Congo and the Lake Tanganyika region to be sold into the Arab world which received huge numbers of Africans over the course of more than 1000 years. Slaves were also sold in India and as far away as China. I couldn’t wait to look around.
I managed to be up in time to have breakfast, Marjolaine took a little longer to get going. We had lunch in a place overlooking the beach, there were east-African dhows sailing back and forth as well as cargo ships and the occasional ferry going to, or coming from, Dar Es Salaam, the nation’s capital. After lunch we walked into Stone Town, the ancient capital of the island. The name comes from the material used for construction. There was little timber available, it had to be imported so people built of local stone, covered in plaster.
The Sultans of Oman who ruled the island and the slave trade for several hundred years, built in the style of Arab riad architecture. In such a town (places like Marrakesh, Fez, and Cairo) one walks through what appear to be non-descript alleyways, the bare walls punctuated by stout, finely-decorated wooden doors. The multi-floor dwellings are not impressive from the outside, but step through the door and you may find a magnificent garden with a fountain and trees, lovely private sections of paradise. Our daughter Tatiana and I spend a few nights in such a riad hotel in Marrakesh some years back; it was like a trip back in time.
The doors here are decorated with large metal spikes, not only for decoration, but for defense against elephants, a measure copied from India. In the event of an attack elephants could push the doors in with their heads, but the spikes would make it too painful for the elephant. We came across the Freddy Mercury museum; the lead singer of Queen was born here to a Persian (Iranian) father who was a functionary under the British administration.
We found a place to buy postcards and bought stamps at the post office. We saw the House of Wonders, the Sultan’s luxury palace. We took in the waterfront with its mix of ancient and modern shipping. This ancient center is quite a unique place, not at all like mainland Tanzania. Stone Town doesn’t feel like Africa, though the population is almost entirely of African origin.
Toward the end of the afternoon around 5:00 pm, we climbed the stairs to a terrace lounge that served food and cold beverages and provided lovely view of the setting sun. Many local people, mostly young but not all, came to the beach for a swim in the warm water.
We went to another waterfront restaurant for dinner as the darkness thickened. We will turn in early tonight and look forward to the guided tour I have arranged for tomorrow, which is our last day on the island; tomorrow evening we will fly back to Nairobi.
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Tess Washington

Thank you for the update of your trip in Tanzania! Glad to hear it is more relaxing & calmer than the day before!


Thanks for the photos and interesting commentary about the spike bedecked doors and interior gardens.