Getting Lost in Zanzibar’s Stone Town
By Gregg Snell
The island of Zanzibar has got some history. The first known reference was made in the 1st century AD, in the publication Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, written by a Greek merchant as a guide for traders and sailors.
In the last 2,000 years, the island has been governed or occupied by Persians, the Portuguese, the British, Omani Arabs, and again by the British.
The sultans of Oman had a strong impact on the island and many customs from their rule still remain today –– especially in Stone Town, the old part of its main city, Zanzibar City. Zanzibar has a 95 percent Muslim population with an incredible architecture that is highly influenced by ancient Arabic and Indian styles.
Most of the buildings feature ornate doors made of heavy wood and brandished with giant brass spikes. Supposedly, the spikes are there to protect against an elephant crashing through your front door. Likely? No. But they do look really cool.
It’s important to understand Zanzibar’s unique history as you’re winding your way through Stone Town. The buildings here mix between mosques, schools (with children chanting verses from the Qur’an), palaces, impressive houses, and hotels. There are quaint restaurants and cafés dotting the streets between mansions that were once international consulates, and old slave markets with their individual holding blocks still intact.
Zanzibar was the centre of the East African slave trade for more than 100 years while sultan Majid bin Said from Oman controlled the island with an iron fist. So much so, that in the 1840s he moved his court to Zanzibar from the Persian Gulf.
Trade flourished and the Omani hand reached as far inland as present day Zambia, Kenya, and Mozambique. Eventually, the slave trade was abolished worldwide and the Omani began to lose their stronghold over the island to the British.
Article by Gregg Snell in G Adventures
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