The magic of Zanzibar’s Stone Town

2017-01-08T21:27:29+00:0011 December 2014|Travel photos, UNESCO World Heritage, Zanzibar|

Zanzibar is one of those really wonderful names, isn’t it? Like Samarkand. Or Esfahan. Or Babylon. Every syllable promises adventure.

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Earlier this year, I took the ferry from Dar es Salaam across to Zanzibar, meaning to a have look around and perhaps stay the night. One week later, I found myself still on the island.

I stayed in Stone Town the entire time, and spent most of the days doing nothing in particular, just wandering along the streets, the markets and the Indian Ocean beaches…

 

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…getting constantly lost in the labyrinthine alleys…

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…and the markets…

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I ambled through the gardens of the old Arab fort…

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…and stood for a long time before this evocative monument at the Old Slave Market. Zanzibar was once a centre for the slave trade. One doesn’t hear as much about slavery in Eastern Africa. Perhaps because the people here were sent to Arabia – eastwards, rather than westwards.

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I gawked at the crumbling colonial architecture, like Beit-al-Ajaib, or House of Wonders, so named as it was the first building on the island to have electricity, and also the first in all of East Africa to have a lift. The building isn’t structurally safe to enter and locals sarcastically wonder when the seemingly forever ongoing renovation will be finished.

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I saw the childhood home of Freddie. Not the museum, but the simple house where he was born – or so I was told, by an elderly man who claimed to have known the family in the 1960s. I choose to believe him, partly because he didn’t ask for a penny. I was taken inside for a look and to meet one of the families who lives there today.(Sorry, no photos; it’s someone’s home.)

I admired the many intriguing doors equipped with metal spikes for protection against warrior elephants – though I can’t picture elephants trampling through the narrow streets of Stone Town; more of an architectural tradition brought from further east, I suspect.

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I’m happy to say Zanzibar lives up to the promise of its name. It’s a magical place, unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. Everywhere are remnants of the island’s past: Zanzibar was once a part of the Sultanate of Oman, before becoming a British protectorate in the 19th century.

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The island became an independent country in 1963, for all of 6 months. After a bloody revolution and genocide, Zanzibar joined Tangyanika on the mainland and formed the nation of Tanzania in April 1964.

Nothing bloody here today, though. Oh, there are drawbacks, of course – like the touts, incessantly asking if you want a taxi, a guide, a peek inside his shop… A bit annoying, yes, but that’s all. A simple, polite and friendly no goes a long way; sometimes it even leads to an interesting chat.

Never once did I, as a solo female, feel the least bit threatened. And now that the darkness of the Nordic winter is setting in, I wistfully think of those lazy, hazy days by the Indian Ocean, aimlessly exploring the crumbling alleys of Stone Town, with all the time in the world at my disposal, so it seemed. I miss the sights, but also the sounds and the scents of Zanzibar. But that’s a whole other post for another time.

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unesco logo

Stone Town of Zanzibar is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites I’ve visited around the world.

 

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15 Comments

  1. Emma @ LWL 13 December 2014 at 1137 - Reply

    This looks like an amazing place to visit. That last photo is beautiful. I’m going to South Africa next year I can’t wait!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 December 2014 at 0737 - Reply

      Africa is a magical continent.

  2. Corinne 14 December 2014 at 1026 - Reply

    Sophie, Gorgeous shots. I’ve had Zanzibar on my list for a long time…gotta go.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 December 2014 at 0737 - Reply

      Knowing you, you’ll be there very soon 🙂

  3. Sand In My Suitcase 14 December 2014 at 1646 - Reply

    Oh gosh, you take us right back to our visit in Stone Town! Think we have the same shot of that bread seller (we also have a shot of a man pushing a cart with grilled corn-on-the-cob). It is quite the atmospheric place isn’t it! (Loved the Zanzibari doors) Did you stay in one of the boutique palace hotels?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 December 2014 at 0738 - Reply

      Yes, I stayed a few nights at the Maru Maru, and the rest of the time at the Serena. Both were just beautiful!

  4. Barbara Weibel 15 December 2014 at 2018 - Reply

    One of the greatest places I’ve ever visited!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 December 2014 at 0739 - Reply

      Isn’t it just… 🙂

  5. Muza-chan 18 December 2014 at 0729 - Reply

    Love it 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 December 2014 at 0739 - Reply

      Loved it, too 🙂

  6. [email protected] 18 December 2014 at 1831 - Reply

    Hi Sophie, I like hearinbg people telling a story about planning to stay in a place for a bit but ended up staying much longer. I like hearing what magnetized them to a place. Zanzibar sounds magical indeed. I enjoyed virtually meandering through the streets on Stonetown with you through your beautiful writing and photos. It’s interesting to learn about the slaves being sent eastward, and that you get to visit Freddie’s birthplace! Really lovely post.

  7. Nancie 18 December 2014 at 2250 - Reply

    Hi Sophie. When you arrive for the day, and stay for a week you know you’ve found something special. Love the sculpture; so much emotion portrayed. The doors are gorgeous, too. Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday

  8. budget jan 19 December 2014 at 0457 - Reply

    Your last photo says Zanzibar to me. Such an evocative photo, and I agree it is an evocative name as well.

  9. Rana Singh 19 December 2014 at 1041 - Reply

    Great place will visit someday.
    Also amazing article and great photographs.
    Thanx for sharing.

  10. Mary @ Green Global Travel 20 December 2014 at 2328 - Reply

    Amazing photos!! Very interesting to see a bit of the daily life along with the history! Thanks for sharing!

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