Stone Town also known as Mji Mkongwe Swahili for “old town” is the old part of Zanzibar City, the main city of Zanzibar, in Tanzania, as opposed to Ng’ambo (Swahili for ‘the other side’). It is located on the western coast of Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago. Former capital of the Zanzibar Sultanate, and flourishing centre of the spice trade as well as the slave trade in the 19th century, it retained its importance as the main city of Zanzibar during the period of the British protectorate. When Tanganyika and Zanzibar joined each other to form the United Republic of Tanzania, Zanzibar kept a semi-autonomous status, with Stone Town as its local government seat.
Stone Town is a city of prominent historical and artistic importance in East Africa. Its architecture, mostly dating back to the 19th century, reflects the diverse influences underlying the Swahili culture, with a unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements. For this reason, the town was designated as a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site in 2000.
The House of Wonders or “Palace of Wonders”, also known as “Beit-al-Ajaib”, in Mizingani Road on the seafront, is probably the most well-known landmarks of Stone Town.
The Old Fort “Ngome Kongwe” in Swahili), adjacent to the House of Wonders, is a heavy stone fortress that was built in the 17th century by the Omanis. It has a roughly square shape; the internal courtyard is now a cultural centre with shops, workshops, and a small arena where live dance and music shows are held daily.
The Old Dispensary or “Ithnashiri Dispensary” was built from 1887 to 1894 to serve as a charity hospital for the poor but was later used as a dispensary. It is one of the most finely decorated buildings of Stone Town
The Palace Museum (also known as the “Sultan’s Palace”, “Beit el-Sahel” in Arab is another former sultan’s palace, on the seafront, to the north of the House of Wonders. It was built in late 19th century and now hosts a museum about the daily life of the Zanzibari royal family, including items that belonged to Sayyida Salme, a former Zanzibar princess who fled to relocate in Europe with her husband.
The Anglican cathedral of Christ Church, in Mkunazini Road, was built at the end of the 19th century for Edward Steere, third bishop of Zanzibar, in a large area in centre Stone Town that previously hosted the biggest slave market of Zanzibar; the place was deliberately chosen to celebrate the end of slavery, and the altar was in the exact spot where the main whipping post of the market used to be. A monument to the slaves Slavery memorial, as well as a museum on the history of slavery, are besides the church.
David Livingstone’s House is a small palace that was originally built for Sultan Majid bin Said but later used by European missionaries. Livingstone lived in the house while preparing his last expedition to the interior of Tanganyika.
Tippu Tip’s House is another large, historical house of Stone Town. It was the house of the infamous Zanzibari slave trader Tippu Tip.
This was established for rescued slaves and was built in 1871 by the Universities Mission to Central Africa. In 1882 St John’s Church was built in the same place for the use of the released slaves. There is a fine carved door and a tower. It was once a holiday resort of Sultan Sayyid Barghash and it had a wonderful position overlooking the sea.
These are located about 4km north of Zanzibar town. It is found off the Bububu road and were built in 1882 by Sultan Barghash for his harem of many (said to be 99) women. The palace was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1899. All that remains are the pillars and aqueducts which brought water to the palace from the nearby springs. The site is very overgrown, and marble from the baths has long since been stolen.
Near the village of Mangapwani, north of Zanzibar Town, are a large natural cavern and a man-made slave cave. The natural coral cavern has a narrow entrance and a pool of fresh water at its lowest point. The Slave Cave, a square cell cut into the coral, was used to hold slaves after the trade was abolished in 1873. The natural cavern may also have been used to hide slaves, but this is not certain.
Built on the highest point of Zanzibar island by Sultan Sayyid Said in 1850, they were for his wife who was Persian, and are decorated in an ornamental stucco work that is in the Persian style. It is located north-east of Zanzibar town about 15km. This is a unique contrast to the plain baths nearby at Kizimbani, which were built within Said’s clove tree and coconut plantation.
Changuu Island also known as Prison Island, was once owned by an Arab who used it for ‘rebellious’ slaves. Some years later in 1893 it was sold to general Mathews, a Briton who converted it into a prison. However it has never actually been used as such and was later converted to serve as a quarantine station for East Africa in colonial times. Some structures of the prison are still intact, besides Changuu Island makes for good snorkeling, wind surfing and sailing grounds.