Zanzibar Stone Town Tour
The world cultural heritage Stone Town is part of the capital of the semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago. It is the cultural heart of Unguja Island and the old quarter of Zanzibar City on the western shore. The city got its name from the many large multi-storey stone buildings that form the landscape of the old quarter.
With this Zanzibar Stone Town Tour you will visit these buildings that are actually not made of stone, but of mortar and coral. Although the corals were a good and easily available building material, they can easily be damaged. Accommodation is available in all price ranges, from backpacker hostels to luxury hotels.
Zanzibar Stone Town Day Trip
House of Wonders
The highest building in the city is the House of Miracles, also called Beit al-Ajaib. It was built in 1833 by the Sultan Barghash. The House of Miracles is famous because it was the first building in East Africa to be equipped with electricity and even an elevator. Electric light had never before been possible in any building in the entire region and so the House of Miracles offered a kind of revolutionary innovation. It was therefore indeed a miraculous and significant development in the region. Today the House of Wonders is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses a museum of history and culture in Zanzibar. This museum is not the most beautiful building in the capital, but it is definitely worth a visit.
It was one of the buildings which survived the British bombing raids in 1869 (even the Crown Letters of that time are still in tact). The lighthouse and the Swahili Clock (to get the right time you either have to subtract or add 6 hours) were rebuilt after the attacks.
The Old Pharmacy
The intricate four-storey building, is the exact opposite of a ferry terminal, and is known as one of East Africa’s most charming sights. Despite the years and the resulting faded façade, the colonial style is still very visible. This building was donated by Sir Tharia Topan, a businessman who made most of his fortune through slave trade, he also donated the first non-denominational school, the pharmacy was completed in 1894 (3 years after Sir Tharia Topan’s death).
After the revolution in 1964, the hospital stood empty and increasingly dilapidated like so many buildings on the island. In 1990 it was meticulously restored by the Aga Kahn Trust for Cultur. On the second floor you can see the restoration process in an exhibition. The building is still empty, but you are welcome to have a look at it, from the first and second floor you have a very nice view of the sea. During the week it is open for visitors from 09:00-17:00, there is no entrance fee.
The customs house
Just past The Big Tree – an impulsive Indian Banyan, which stands at the junction of Jamatini and Mizingani Road, under this tree you can also inquire about boat tours to the neighboring islands – is The Old Customs House.
From the outside the house looks a bit arrogant. It has green wrought-iron balconies and columns, and the thick walls of the building look very huge. Inside, however, you will experience a remarkable lightness. The top floor houses the Dhow Counties Music Academy, which welcomes visitors at any time. There they can buy CDs and get information about courses.
The Sultan’s Palace
The museum is open daily from 09:00-18:00, or during Ramadan from 08:00-14:30 (TSh 3000 or 3 USD). The palace was built in the late 19th century to serve as the residence of the sultan family. After the Zanzibar revolution in 1964 it was officially renamed People’s Palace. In 1994 it became a museum of the history of the royal family of Zanzibar. The ground floor shows details of the Sultanate’s formative period from 1828 to 1870, when commercial agreements were signed between Zanzibar, the United States of America, Great Britain and France. The museum displays the memorabilia of Princess Salme, better known as Emily Ruete. The former Princess of Zanzibar fled from the Sultanate to settle in Europe with her husband.
The exhibition includes some of her writings, clothes and things of daily use. The exhibits on the 1st floor relate more to the period of prosperity from 1870 to 1896, during which modern amenities such as water pipes and electricity were introduced to Zanzibar under Sultan Barghash. On the 2nd floor are the modest living quarters of Sultan Khalifa bin Haroub (1911-1960) and his two wives, who apparently had different tastes in furnishing. For the first time, visitors can see many of the Sultan’s furniture and other items that survived the revolution.
The Old Fortress
You can visit it daily from 09:00-22:00, the entrance is free (for performances you have to buy a ticket). The Old Fort is located next to the House of Wonders and was built between 1698 and 1701 by the Busaidi group of Omani Arabs. It is a large building with high dark brown walls that were closed with a crenellated battlements. The Arabs used the fort to defend themselves against the Portuguese and opposing Omani groups. Recently it has been partially renovated to house the Zanzibar Cultural Center. In a courtyard is a stone amphitheatre that houses performances of local music and dance, such as Taarab, Zanzibar’s most popular music. There is a small tourist information office, a gift shop.
This shaded public garden is a very nice place to relax. The garden has some very interesting stalls and a playground made of old tyres.
The most popular is the food market in the evening. There you can find a wide range of traditional food for little money. The market has a beautiful atmosphere and a wide choice of some of the best restaurants in Zanzibar.
Please be careful when buying fish out of season, it might not be as fresh as it seems. Otherwise, the quality you get in this market is surprisingly good. Always negotiate the price before you buy something, as the traders like to set special tourist prices.