Tag Archives: Stone Town

Zanzibar – Stone Town

Doesn’t that sound so sexy and exciting? Zanzibar.

After a two hour ferry ride across the Indian Ocean heading due East we docked in another UNESCO World Heritage site called Stone Town.

From the UNESCO website: The buildings of the Stone Town, executed principally in coralline ragstone and mangrove timber, set in a thick lime mortar and then plastered and lime-washed, reflect a complex fusion of Swahili, Indian, Arab and European influences in building traditions and town planning. The two storey houses with long narrow rooms disposed round an open courtyard, reached through a narrow corridor, are distinguished externally by elaborately carved double ‘Zanzibar’ doors, and some by wide vernadahs, and by richly decorated interiors. Together with, the simple ground floor Swahili houses and the narrow façade Indian shops along “bazaar” streets constructed around a commercial space “duka”.

The old carved doors in Lamu and Shella originated in Zanzibar. They are truly a work of art and the focal point of most facades.

Click to enlarge photos…

We stayed in an old converted mansion. Much like a Mexican hacienda but probably Portuguese. The decor is old, stylish and ornate. It felt like we had stepped back in time.

Still sick and dragging. We managed to explore everything Old Town had to offer. We’d walk and walk and then I’d collapse in bed.

The streets in the old portion of town were narrow and filled with cars and motorcycles making passage on foot quite dangerous.

Every 15 seconds we were asked if we wanted a taxi ride or to visit a shop. Zanzibar is still reeling from the shutdown – there are 30 parked taxis for every person visiting. 

Once off the beaten path we were able to avoid being on alert and were able to experience the quiet more “normal” non-tourist life.

Strolling through markets can be enlightening. The colors and activity are invigorating. It’s mind-blogging to see how meat and fish sit out unrefrigerated. It’s always an opportunity for me to explain (haha – often with hand signals) that our son does the same job in America (albeit wayyy different). This precipitates smiles and invitations for me to take photos.

A dark side to Zanzibar was the slave trade market that started in 1811. The world’s last open slave market. Over the course of 60 years one million enslaved were traded here. Taken from Central and East Africa and brought across the Indian Ocean to Stone Town.  Some slaves remained in Zanzibar to work in the plantations and the remaining were sent overseas to the Persian Gulf and Asia.  David Livingston in 1857 made an appeal to Cambridge and Oxford Universities to end the slave trade in Africa. By decree of the Sultan of Zanzibar slave trade ended in 1873.  In 1874 the Cathedral Church of Christ was built in its place. The haunting Slave Market Memorial was created in 1998 by Clara Sornas of Scandinavia.  This day a class of high schoolers were learning about this site.

Side note:  Tanzania has two presidents.  One for mainland Tanzania and one for Zanzibar.  When we entered Zanzibar we went through customs even though technically it is Tanzania.  They went from a Covid denying President (on the mainland who died during the pandemic) to new one (five months in office) who is trying to change the perception and response to Covid.  The only people with masks on are hotel workers.  As I am writing this and doing research online the first (not the “first” but that’s his title) VP of Zanzibar died today of Covid.  The USA State Department issued warning for its citizens not travel to Tanzania because they have not reported their Covid cases.  I should also add that no one on the island of Lamu in Kenya wore face masks.  It was strange, a bit unnerving but in the same breath fun to see people being normal.

Off to the beach…