Zanzibar Islands 153

The Zanzibar Island lies about 23 miles off the coast of mainland Tanzania, six degrees south of Equator. The island stretches over an area of 640 sq miles and is characterized by white sandy beaches, coconut groves, clove plantation, and a rich cultural heritage. People from different corner of the world have migrated into the island including Malays, Indians, Egyptians, and Arabs and have settled on the island for over multiple centuries. They have left their mark on the island in the architecture and local tradition.


The Island has attracted travelers to its shores for centuries and was one of the main centers on the East African coast of the slave trade. The clove tree was introduced to Zanzibar in 1818 and the Island by the middle of that century was the worlds largest producer of cloves, which is how it got its name as the “Spice Island”. At the same time, the slave trade was reaching its peak with as many as 50,000 slaves passing through its market every year. The Arabic influence became so strong that the Sultan of Oman moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar. For a long time, it was more important than the other Arab trading centers of Lamu in Kenya was, and Bagamoyo on the mainland Tanzania was. In 1890, the Island became a British Protectorate and at the same time, its power went into decline, particularly with the construction of the Mombassa to Kampala railway, which created a new trade route into the African hinterland. It remained a protectorate until independence in 1964 when Zanzibar joined with Tanganyika to become the United Republic of Tanzania.


The old stone town of Zanzibar is well worth a visit, to get an idea of it’s past take your time to wander through the narrow winding streets lined with little shops, bazaars mosques and squares. In the town you will find the Beit-el-Ajaib or the house of wonders, the peoples palace (formally the Sultans palace) and the Arab Fort built by the Portuguese in 1700, also the Shirazi Mosque which dates back to 1107 AD and the old slave market, on which the first Anglican cathedral in East Africa was built. Also in town is Livingstone House, which was the base for David Livingstones last expedition before he died. The National Museum, which houses a small but interesting display on the history of the Island and its people.


On the outskirts of Zanzibar Town the Muruhubi Palace built by the Sultan Seyyid Bargash to house his harem is worth a visit. In addition to that, there are the Persian baths in well-preserved state which are built by the Sultan for his Persian wife. To the north, there are a number of slave caves close to the Mangapwani beach. These were used for illegal slave trading even after its abolishment in the late 1800s. In close proximity is Jozani Forest which is the last remaining sanctuaries for the rare red Kirks Colobus Monnkeys. Zanzibar is also praised for the warm clear water which is ideal for snorkelling and swimming. there is also the Island called Chungu Island more popularly known as Prison Island from where the slaves were shipped out.