After the Kili climb: a guide to exploring Zanzibar's Stone Town

Monday, 13 May 2015 10:50 AM

Travelling to Tanzania doesn't only have to be about completing the climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro, as there is lots more to see and do in the nation than just scaling the famous peak. After your trek, consider visiting Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is a group of islands off the Tanzanian coast in the Indian Ocean. There are two main islands - Unguja (commonly referred to as Zanzibar Island) and Pemba - as well as around 50 much smaller islets. If you're looking for some rest and relaxation combined with a splash of culture and history, head to Stone Town on Unguja.

It's an amazing place to explore with plenty to keep you occupied for days. Below is a bit of information about Stone Town and its main sights.

Stone Town: a brief history

There has been a fishing village in what's now Stone Town since around the 10th century. However, it was not until the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century that the town began to be developed.

At the end of the 17th century, Omani Arabs took control of the trade routes in this part of Africa and it was during this time that many of the stone buildings that give the town its name were erected. When trade in the Indian Ocean boomed in the 19th century, Stone Town expanded significantly, with the Arab rulers and the wealthy merchants introducing palaces and mansions to the area.

It was one of the main slave-trading ports in East Africa, so it has great historical significance, both because of the number of people who were trafficked through the area and the resistance movement that opposed slavery, which operated from Stone Town. 

Top sights to see in Stone Town

There is ample opportunity to learn about Stone Town's varied and exciting history by visiting some of its top sights. The following are just a few of the must-visit attractions.

• Palace Museum - This is a great place to start, as it will give you an insight into the era of Zanzibar's sultans. The building itself was once the official residence of the Sultan of Zanzibar and it is now home to a range of exhibits relating to these rulers, as well as displays about commercial treaties that were signed during the early to mid-19th century. On the third floor, you can see the living quarters of Sultan Khalifa bin Haroub - one of the last sultans to rule over the island.
• The House of Wonders - Located close to the Palace Museum is the House of Wonders, which got its interesting name because it was the first building on the island to have electricity. It was the home of Sultan Barghash, who not only brought electricity here, but also piped water. The building itself is spectacular, with four storeys, numerous verandas and an impressive clock tower. Although you can't go inside, you are allowed to wander around the beautiful gardens.
• Anglican cathedral - This is the oldest Christian place of worship of its kind in East Africa and it was built on the site of the former slave market. Outside the cathedral is a monument to the memory of the slaves who passed through Zanzibar's markets.
• Fruit and Food Market - Located on Benjamin Mkapa Road, this market is well worth a visit, as you will find stalls full of aromatic spices, as well as local farm produce and seafood. It's a great place to soak up the atmosphere and mingle with the locals.
• Hamamni Persian Baths - These were the first public baths to be opened in Zanzibar and, although they're not working any longer, they've been incredibly well preserved. You can wander around the chambers inside and imagine how luxurious they must have been in their heyday.

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