The Stone Town of Zanzibar is a fine example of the Swahili coastal trading towns of East Africa. It retains its urban fabric and townscape virtually intact and contains many fine buildings that reflect its particular culture, which has brought together and homogenized disparate elements of the cultures of Africa, the Arab region, India, and Europe over more than a millennium.
Stone Town of Zanzibar (Arabic: مدينة زنجبار الحجرية), also known as Mji Mkongwe (Swahili for “old town”), is the old part of Zanzibar City, the main city of Zanzibar, in Tanzania. The newer portion of the city is known as Ng’ambo, Swahili for ‘the other side’. Stone Town 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, giving a unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements. For this reason, the town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
Due to its heritage, Stone Town is also a major visitor attraction in Tanzania, and a large part of its economy depends on tourism-related activities.
Top Things to Do and See in Stone Town
1 – Get lost
No, seriously. You should get lost in the Stone Town historic centre. It is a fantastic maze of alleyways and winding passages where no rule can tell you what to see, capture with your camera, or get you shocked. Just go and let Stone Town surprise you. The delicious smell of spices will escort you wherever you go, as well as the smile of the locals, and you will enjoy the particular architecture of the island, with the bouncy bazaars and the buildings made of coralline rock and wooden balustrades, as if they were built almost two centuries ago.
However, do not worry: the centre is not that big, and sooner or later you will get yourself out to the sea.
1 houses and alleys of stone town zanzibar
2 – Check out the doors
This point is directly related to the previous one, but it deserves to be highlighted. When the locals built their dwellings, they competed with each other in peculiarity and extravagance, and the result is more than 500 fantastic and different carved wooden doors. You can spend as many hours as you want to find and admire all of them.
2 carved wooden door in stone town zanzibar
3 – Meet the celebrities
Did you know Farrokh Bulsara, best known as Freddy Mercury, was born in Stone Town and that you can visit his birth house? The same for the famous explorer Dr Livingstone, who lived in a classy residence firstly built for the Sultan Majid bin Said.
You can visit both houses on your trip to Stone Town. An opportunity that you cannot miss.
3 old dispensary architecture of zanzibar stone town
4 – Visit the historic buildings
So much history behind had to produce so many historic buildings to admire. Among them, the House of Wonders, a palace built on the seafront for the sultan, and now a museum on Swahili culture. There is also the Old Fort, a heavy stone fortress built in the 1600s to protect the city against European invaders and, finally, the Old Dispensary, the most finely decorated building in the town, born as a charity hospital.
4 old fort historic building in zanzibar
Obviously, there are so many others that we would need another article to explain them all.
However, there is a very much easier solution to such trouble: just ask us!
At Dhow Inn, we will be happy to help you with your visit to Stone Town, and we will show you all the places you can visit and experiences to find in this fine city, such as an open-air dinner at the Forodhani Gardens.
Surely, you will fall in love with Stone Town!