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HomeTravel news and articlesStone Town – Zanzibar’s old town

Stone Town – Zanzibar’s old town

24 November, 2017
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View over the town

Narrow, winding streets that you can easily get lost in. Markets packed with busy Stone Town residents shopping for dinner. Mosques, Arabic squares and massive houses. Stone Town bursts with life and history.

Stone Town is the cultural heart of Zanzibar. This old district of Zanzibar City has stood almost unchanged for the past 200 years.

The town feels almost like a museum, but it remains the home of many island residents.

What is Stone Town?

Street in Stone Town

A unique gem can be found in the Indian Ocean. Zanzibar.

The old Arabic district, Stone Town, is an old coastal trade village. In the 1800s, the town was the heart of trade for several cultures due to its strategic location. Over more than a thousand years, countless cultures have left their mark on the city.

One trademark of the town is its historic houses. The Arabic stone houses stand side by side, adorned with gorgeous wooden doors and brass fittings. Stepping into this fascinating town feels almost like travelling through time.

The history of Stone Town

Old buildings

What makes Stone Town unique is the cultural marks its long history has left on the town. Stone Town is influenced by Arabic, European, Indian and African culture, and these cultures have merged together to create a whole.

These peoples came to Stone Town as seafarers, explorers and sultans. They brought the traditions and culture that helped create the unique atmosphere that permeates the district today. Today, its inhabitants live side by side peacefully.

But Stone Town wasn’t always this way.

In the 19th century, trade was bustling, but they sold more than just spices and produce. Each year leading up to 1873, when the British arrived on the island, up to 50,000 Africans were sold as slaves.

What can you experience in Stone Town?

Stone Town-market

Stone Town has an incredible wealth of experiences to offer.

You could simply take a walk in its winding alleyways and enjoy the melange of cultures. The smell of spices is intense. On your tour, you can admire the beautiful stone buildings and see their beautiful wooden doors, carved with all kinds of detailed patterns. There is more than enough to experience in a walk through this unique district.

If you wish for a more concrete experience, you could also try some exciting sightseeing spots, including:

  • Visit Beit al-Ajaib, which today is the island’s national museum. Originally, the building was the palace of a sultan, but today it houses historical articles.
  • East-Africa’s first Anglican church was completed here in 1880. The church was erected to signify the end of the slave trade, and it stands on the ground where the slave trade once took place. Visit Christ Church Cathedral and the monument next to it.
  • The oldest building in Stone Town is Ngome Kongwe. Ngome Kongwe is an old fortress built by the Arabic population in 1700. The fortress, which was built for battle, was never the centre of a war. Today you can see plays at the fortress, as an amphitheatre has been built at the location.
  • When you visit Stone Town, a visit to Darajani, the largest market on the island, is a must. The market thrums with energy and barter, and you can buy anything you could possibly want. Fruit, selfie sticks and live chickens are all among the many goods at the market.
  • You can also visit the Hamamni Persian Baths, which were built in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, the baths are no longer in service, but they were some of the first public baths in Stone Town, giving some cultural insight into the city.

Due to the district’s fascinating and disturbing history as both a trade empire and slave trading town, Stone Town’s unique buildings and mix of cultures led it to be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2000.

If this district, overflowing with history and culture, has captivated you, visit Stone Town on your tour of Zanzibar, perhaps as a conclusion to your safari in Tanzania, safari in Kenya, or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Visit Stone Town on a day trip or spend two nights in Zanzibar’s answer to Marrakesh.

Discover Zanzibar on these tours:

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