Hey! Zanzibar is an amazing place! Here’s Part 2 of this series.
If you’re not cruising through the Indian Ocean and happen to be passing by (note to self: I should do that very soon), there are a number of rather nice boutique hotels on Zanzibar that you should check out. My British friend’s aunt actually runs an eco-resort there.
Here’s a page I like that lists some of the other accommodation options available.
The Culture and Other Stuff to Do
People have lived on Zanzibar for 20,000 years: since Paleolithic times. The islands originally became a base for traders making their way between the African Great Lakes, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent. Omanis and Yemenis settled there and built Zanzibar City (The Stone Town).
During the Age of Exploration, the Portuguese Empire gained control of Zanzibar, and kept it for around 200 years. In 1968, though, it was taken over by the Sultanate of Oman, and started to grow spices there (which is how the Spice Islands attained their name). Slaves and lots of other goods were transported to Zanzibar as traders moved along this exotic route.
After being controlled by the British, the Spice Islands gained independence and the Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba was formed. It later merged with the mainland Tanzania. Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region.
As a result of this interesting history, there is a lot of cool stuff to see in Zanzibar. The first attraction is the Zanzibar National Museum of History and Culture.
Zanzibar National Museum of History and Culture (ZNMHC)
One of the most jaw-dropping buildings in the Stone Town is the Beit el-Ajaib, which now houses the ZNMHC. Right inside the entrance is a life-size mtepe, a traditional Swahili sailing vessel made without any nails (spoiler alert: they are held together with coconut fibers and wooden pegs)!
Check it out for exhibits on the dhow culture of the Indian Ocean, Swahili civilization and 19th-century Zanzibar.
The Palace Museum (the Beit el-Sahel)
This imposing museum is a reconstruction of the Sultan Seyyid Said’s 19th-century home and palace, which was actually destroyed by the British in 1896. Luckily, a lot of the thrones, portraits, banqueting tables and suchlike survived.
Originally, there was a harem just next door, connected to the palace by raised, private walkways that passed over city streets, so the Sultans could have their many wives and others secretly move from place to place.
The Anglican Cathedral
This building was built in the 1970s by the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa, and was the first Anglican cathedral in East Africa. It was raised where the old slave market used to be. There is a moving Slave Memorial in the garden. Services are still held at the cathedral on Sunday mornings.
Check out Part 3 for more on the mouthwatering dishes you might like to try while sailng a dhow in Zanzibar.