Discover the History and Culture of Zanzibar

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  26 October 2018       Oluwakemi Ojo       5 min read

Famous Historical Sites in Zanzibar

Situated just off the Tanzanian coast in East Africa, Zanzibar boasts an exciting and colourful history, offering a unique cultural experience along with its idyllic setting for relaxation. 

The island is such a vibrant place to visit, full of amazing attractions and unique activities, as well as many historical sites to explore. If you would like to learn more about the Zanzibari people as well as events that have influenced and shaped Zanzibar, you should probably take time to explore its history of the island. 

So let’s take a closer look at the top historical sites in Zanzibar that will help you uncover it's beautiful heritage.

The Arab Fort

The Arab fort, also known as the old fort or Ngome Kongwe, is an enormous and imposing structure located next to Beit Al-Ajaib. The fort was built between 1698 and 1701 by the Arabs after they took over Zanzibar in 1698. It initially served as a defence against mostly the Portuguese and a rival Omani group. 

Aside from serving as a defence against the enemies, the fort also served as a prison where prisoners were incarcerated, punished, and executed in the 19th century. The prison activity faded away in the 20th century when the fort became a depot for a railway from Zanzibar town to a place called Bububu in the north of stone town. 

Currently, the Arab fort serves as a centre of attraction to many tourists. It has been decidedly renovated to serve as a historical monument with spectacular views of the Zanzibar harbour and the Indian Ocean. 

A section of this fort was also converted into an open-art theatre in 1994. The theatre houses contemporary and traditional music, drama, and dance performances.

The Arab Fort

The Arab Fort, Image Souce: Tanzaniasafarivacation.com

Livingstone House

 Aside from being an anti-slavery crusader, David Livingstone was also into explorations. He spent most of his downtime in the Livingstone house, up until he set out for the Nile exploration where he died. 

The Livingstone house was built by Sultan Majid around 1860 and is located on the northeast side of Stone town. The house also served as a shelter to other missionaries and explorers as the carried out their expeditions. The ownership of the building was later taken away from the Colonial government after the independence and revolution. It then became the Zanzibar headquarters of the Tanzania Friendship Tourist Bureau. 

Today, the Livingstone house is now the principal office of the Zanzibar Tourist Corporation.

Livingstone House

Livingstone House, Image source: Peregrinusgroup.info

Beit al-Ajaib: The House of Wonders Museum

Built around 1883, Beit al-Ajaib, also referred to as the House of Wonders was used as a traditional palace for Sultan Barghash, the ruling sultan. This old palace is a well-known structure on the island and across the East African region. The building was the first to have electricity as well as an electric elevator in East Africa.  

Today, it is used as a museum, and it acts as a representation of the history of Zanzibar. Visitors can explore the museum and learn more about the history and culture of the island as well as the entire Swahili Coast. 

Maruhubi Palace Ruins

Located just 4km north of Zanzibar town, Maruhubi Palace ruin is situated only a few kilometres from the beach. The palace was built by Sultan Barghash, the third Arab Sultan of Zanzibar,  in around 1880. It was home to his wife and numerous concubines. 

The palace was destroyed by fire leaving some remains, which include the massive stone columns that once supported the large balcony on the upper floor. There used to be a beautiful garden where the Royals would entertain their guests. Visitors can explore the palace ruins, and learn more about the history of the place. The sandy beach situated behind the palace is now an off-the-cuff shipyard used by local fishermen, where they build and fix their fishing dhows. 

Maruhubi Palace Ruins

Zanzibar Maruhubi Palace Ruins, Image source Dongweoceanview.com

Old Indian Dispensary

Also referred to as Ithnashiri Dispensary, the Old Indian Dispensary is a notable historical building in the Old Town of Zanzibar. The dispensary is situated on the seafront, just between the Palace Museum and the harbour. 

It was built as a hospital for the poor by a wealthy Indian merchant to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The Dispensary is one of the most ornamental old buildings on the island, featuring stucco work, ornately carved balconies, and stained glass windows. The building represents a multi-cultural architecture and cultural heritage of the Island. The interior is also fascinating, featuring a covered courtyard with carved bridges connecting the floors.

Old Indian Dispensary

The Old Indian Dispensary

Kidichi Persian Baths

Located northeast of Stone Town, the Kidichi Persian Baths were built by Sultan Said in the year 1850. The baths were constructed beside their plantations and were created to refresh themselves when they travelled from town to oversee the plantations.

The architecture is typically Persian inspired with ornamental stucco work and subversive furnace to keep the water warm. Today, visitors can explore the bathhouse to see the bathing pool, changing room and massage tables. 

Kidichi Persian Baths

Kidichi Persian Bath, Image source Darguide.co.tz

The Old Anglican Church

If you want a first-hand history and experience of the influence of the British abolition movement on Zanzibar, then you’ve got to visit the old Anglican Church. 

Located close the largest Zanzibar slave market, the Anglican Church was undeniably affected by the slave trades. Edward Steere was the third bishop of Zanzibar and the famous British abolitionist. He saw to the construction of the cathedral, which took about 10 years to complete and even invented the strange barrel vault roof. 

In the Anglican Church, there is a famous wooden cross which is by all standards, is not an ordinary wooden cross. It was made from a tree beneath which the anti-slavery crusader, Dr. David Livingstone’s heart was buried. Talk about being immortalized.

The Old Anglican Church

Old Anglican Church, Image source Bluebayzanzibar.com

Mangapwani Slave Chamber

This is another historic site in Zanzibar which dates back to the time of slavery. Mangapwani slave chamber was cut out from a coralline rock with a rooftop. Its location is 20kms north of stone town and 2kms up the coast from Mangapwani Coral Cavern. 

Mohammed bin Nasser Al-Alwi was the original builder of this chamber. He was a notorious slave trade and constructed this chamber to keep his slaves till the when he would sell them off at the slave market in Zanzibar Town. It is believed that this chamber was used to hide slaves even after a treaty was signed by the authorities to abolish the slave trade in 1873.

Mangapwani Slave Chamber

Mangapwani Slave Chamber

Travel Back in Time to Ancient Zanzibar

These ancient monuments and ruins will help paint a different picture of this Tanzanian jewel. Find out more about this tropical paradise by exploring its history.

We'd love to hear from you If you have anything to add to our list or would like to tell us about your experience give us a shout!

Share your experience with us! Tag @Tripindigo on your social posts #EastAfricaRocks or simply comment below!

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