Zanzibar Town is a Cosmopolitical city located on the Swahili coast in East Africa

Zanzibar Town is a Cosmopolitical city located on the Swahili coast at the intersection between Africa and the Indian Ocean. Dhows, using the annual monsoon winds, brought Arabian, Persian and Indian traders and sailors into Zanzibar, who traded and intermarried with the local people, settling down to become part of the overall Swahili culture. Each community has made its own contribution, resulting in the unique, cosmopolitan architecture of Zanzibar Town.

In the 19th century, Zanzibar Town developed to become the Capital of a large commercial empire based on international trade and clove production, reaching its peak in the 1870s.It was located on the triangular peninsula separated from the main island by the narrow Creek, before spilling over to the ‘Other Side’(Nga’ambo).

The architecture of Zanzibar Town is a marriage of four architectural traditions.

  1. Swahili roots: The original Swahili architecture emphasizes modesty and domestic privacy, but with a space for socialization over a cup of coffee, necessary for commercial interactions, in an entrance alcove(daka), as can be seen at the Kiponda B&B.

However, this style was overwhelmed with the arrival of larger numbers of Arabs and Indians, each with its own architectural traditions.

  • Oman Arab-elegant simplicity: Oman plantation owners introduced the Oman tradition, with massive, square multi – storeyed mansions and imposing carved doors, and with external baraza and internal majlis to facilitate social interactions while safeguarding domestic privacy, e.g., the Old Customs House.
  • Indian-commercial modesty. Most Indians were small-scale shopkeepers who built their modest shop-front houses along the bazaar streets, with strong but simple doors that opened into the shop, e.g. Sokomuhogo.
  • Indo-Arab fusion. From the 1890s, the Monumental Omani and commercial Indian traditions fused to form a new, modern Zanzibar style, e.g. the House of Wonders, displaying the new carved door traditional, and the Old Dispensary, with its imposing external balconies. From the 1880s, the British instigated a new phase of Islamic, Christian, and Hindu modernity, especially in monumental public buildings, which will be covered in a separate tour.

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