Located on the western coast of Unguja, the biggest island in the Zanzibar archipelago, is the historic Swahili Stone Town. Also called Mji Mkongwe, meaning Old Town in Swahili, was the capital of the Zanzibar Sultanate and an important centre for the trading of spices and slaves. The town is famous for coral stone buildings built in the nineteenth century and now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The history of Stone Town goes back to the middle of the nineteenth century when the first stone houses were built to replace the existing fishing village. At that time the archipelago was under the control of the Oman Sultanate and soon became the capital leading to growth and development. The town is famous for hosting the shortest war in history, when in 1896 the war between the British Navy and the Sultan lasted about 45 minutes. Before the Sultan surrendered. The town was also witness to the Zanzibar revolution, which saw the Sultan overthrown and the establishment of a socialist government.
As you walk around the narrow lanes of Stone Town you will be amazed by the architecture of the tall houses that radiate towards the sea. You will find the architecture is essentially Arabic, but has influences from India, Persia and even Europe. You may also be amused to know that brass studs have been installed on doors to protect each house from elephants.
The Stone Town of Zanzibar houses various religions and you will find over fifty mosques, six temples and a church located in the town. If you are in the town at the time of the Islamic prayers you will be amused to find the muezzins of mosques vying with each other to catch the attention of worshipers. The barrel vault roof of the Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ will catch your attention while the beautiful Aga Khan Mosque is also an impressive structure.
Other attractions include the museum of Betit El Ajaib, or the House of Wonder, so called as it was the first building in the country to have electricity and a lift. You can have a glimpse in the lives of the Sultans of Zanzibar at the museum located at the Palace Museum. You can also visit the old slave market called Kilele Square or admire the Hamamni Persian Baths used by the wealthy. However, if you wish to enjoy a luxurious bath now you will be disappointed as there is no water in the baths!
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“The town has some amazing architecture and labyrinthine streets – easy to get lost we found! US dollars were the preferred currency …….we used Tanzanian schillings and some store owners were reluctant to take them – they converted the dollars and we had a very bad rate of exchange!” by Debs
TALES & EXPERIENCES – What did you see? Highlights/dislikes? Any interesting anecdotes?
“The slave cells way down under ground – was grim” by Debs
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