The Old Dispensary, an ancient building, housed a dispensary and today is one of the most popular centres for the town’s cultural events. The rich history of this island nation is reflected in the House of Wonders Museum. Bearing testament to the mélange of African, Arabian and Indian cultures, the museum’s focal point is the Mtepe, a Swahili traditional boat. The buildings by the seaside are delightfully quaint and Stone Town clearly has soul. What is not known to many is that Zanzibar was where the most widely spoken language of East Africa, Swahili, was first born.
The other interesting fact about Zanzibar is that it has the distinction of owning the largest number of wooden doorways in all of East Africa. The streets of Zanzibar are filled with massive brass studded doors creating a rich plethora of historic entryways. According to legend, the intricate carvings on the doors were evidence of the owner’s wealth and status in the community. The doors are truly colourful reminders of a romantically arabesque past.
Heat and dust: With the noontime sun in the sky I began to feel the intense island heat blazing down. More of Zanzibar’s colourful history unfolded as I walked into an open ground, past an unmarked gate. A few metres ahead, forever chained to the spot were statues of a group of slaves. They stood in a pit about 8 feet in depth as they had for countless summers and winters. Their stony faces were a picture of anguish and their eyes revealed the emptiness of their souls. The statues were carved in stone and chained to the ground and this sight brought tears to my eyes.
With the arrival of the Persian traders came slave trade which began as early as the 9th century. It was forbidden for Muslims to be enslaved and so the Persians resorted to capturing and enslaving people from neighbouring African countries. The old slave market is a vital part of Zanzibar’s history. This is where slaves were whipped into submission, bound and sold to the highest bidders. It stands as a testament of Zanzibar’s tainted past.
An Anglican church now stands at the very site of the former slave market. You can tour the dank dungeons of the slaves where they waited in fear of the unknown. A few other visitors looked around the dungeons as I made my way to the open ground above. Visiting the old slave market offers a glimpse into the darkest facets of human nature and it is a trip every visitor should make. I wove my way into the noisy streets once again arriving at the main market.
Colourful marketplace: The marketplace was thriving with piquant aromas wafting through the air. Fruits and spices formed colourful mountains on small carts and vendors tried to attract buyers by calling out to them. Zanzibar is known as the land of spices and was at one time the largest producer of cloves in the world. Over time Indian traders arrived in ships laden with ivory and spices. They settled down alongside other communities. The Omani influence is also prevalent and Islam is the religion most Zanzibaris follow.
Evening at the beach: My evening was spent at the calm beachside. With some of the most spectacular coral reefs, Zanzibar and Pemba islands will prove irresistible to the keen diver and snorkeler. Sitting on soft white sand, I watched the sun sink into the sea, painting the once blue sky into shades of fiery orange. As the moon began to rise, I kicked off the sand and headed into town. My day ended aptly with dinner at a rooftop restaurant atop an old house. Red and orange drapes moved dreamily in the cool night air. The food was fantastic, the music mellow as stars began to twinkle in the black Zanzibar sky, bringing the curtains down on an unforgettable journey into the heart of the island of spices.
For other countries, check with the Tanzanian consulate in your country.