Capital City, About Zanzibar Town Tourism and Travel

(Zanzibar, Tanzania, TZ, East Africa)

Zanzibar Town includes Stone Town, the old district of the capital, and the neighbourhood of Ngambo. In terms of its architecture, Stone Town itself has changed little over the past couple of hundred years.

It is still possible to see buildings that reflect the influence that Arab, Indian and European colonists had on the capital. Today, Stone Town is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains an integral part of Zanzibar Town.

As such, important conservation has begun in order to preserve the historic integrity of this fascinating East African capital city.

Tourism and General Information

Take a walk around Stone Town's streets and the pattern of its historic evolution is clear to see. Established as one of several harbour towns in Zanzibar, the first real settlement here is thought to date back to the early 18th century, when a fort was built by Zanzibar's Omani rulers.

From the 18th to the 19th century, Stone Town was dominated by a succession of ruling Islamic dynasties. The palaces and grand mansion houses that remain today are evidence of their wealth and status. It was a centre for the local spice trade and the port here grew as an important base for the East African slave trade.

From the mid-19th century, Stone Town steadily grew into a melting pot of cultures, with the arrival of groups of immigrants. Among them were European colonists, including missionaries and explorers, who used Stone Town as a base from which they could head out into the wilderness to discover a yet unknown African territory. Indeed, from 1890, the whole of Zanzibar came under British rule.

By 1900, Stone Town had clearly defined areas of European, Indian and Arabic influence. Native Africans were largely confined to an area of town that is today known as Ngambo, or 'the other side' of Zanzibar Town.

In 1964, Stone Town found itself at the centre of the Zanzibar Revolution, when insurgents marched onto its streets and succeeded in overthrowing the Sultan and his government. Ultimately, the revolution led to the formation of the United Republic of Tanzania, which includes both Tanganyika and Zanzibar. Since the mid 1980s, efforts have been made to preserve Stone Town's historic buildings.

Stone Town lies at the heart of Zanzibar's culture. It is a maze of narrow alleys, streets, markets and mosques, shops and squares, as well as palaces. Three and four-storey buildings - some in a better state than others, reflect the wealth of their 19th-century owners. Arab-style buildings are characterised by heavy front doors that lead to an inner courtyard. During the day, Stone Town is a busy place, frequented by crowds of tourists and locals.

The other district in Zanzibar Town is known in official lingo as Michenzani, which translates as 'New City'. However, locals know this neighbourhood as Ngambo. Originally a shanty town, Ngambo today is a place of modern office blocks which, for many, lacks the charm of Stone Town.

A visit to Stone Town shouldn't be confined to its most important tourist destinations, which include the House of Wonders, the Old Fort, the Palace Museum and Livingstone's House. The best way to get to the heart of the place is to take a stroll through its narrow alleyways and around its many mosques and markets.