Labyrinth of alleyways in Stone Town
We all wish for it, sometime or the other. We often wish to go back into the past, and to get lost in the by lanes of time. While that may not be possible, there is one place in the world where you can get very close to your wish- Stone Town in the aromatic land of Zanzibar.
If you know your spices, then you’ll know of Zanzibar too. The country was an extremely important port of call for spice merchants from around the world.
Even today, its spices are renowned and attract visitors from all over the world.
Stone Town is an integral part of Zanzibar. Stepping into it is like going to a place that time has seemingly forgotten. In fact, in Swahili, it’s called ‘old town.’ It’s situated in the west, on the coast of Unguja, a natural harbour. In 2000, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its historical, architectural and artistic importance. If you stand on a tall building and look over to Stone Town, you’ll spot ruins, red roofs and a whole lot of colour and character.
Why is Stone Town so magical? Well, for starters there are visible signs of the many influences that have acted on the culture of the country. You’ll spot glimpses of Europe, motifs of Persia and India, the strong stamp of the Swahili way of life and the intricateness of Arabia. This co-mingling is especially evident in the architecture and buildings you’ll see here. In fact, this part of the city gets its name from the coral that’s used in so much of its construction. The red you see is not only for the roof but from the stones used as well.
Pay special attention to the doors in the houses; they are beautifully carved and if they are influenced by India, you may see that from the brass studs, flowers and the rounded edges in the doors.
Apart from this, there are carvings and bas-relief details as well. The Arabic style is rectangular and often carries verses from the holy book, for auspicious beginnings.
Stone Town has magnificent buildings. Make sure you take a look at The Palace of Wonders, also called The House of Wonders. This is by far the most popular building in Stone Town.
Constructed in 1883 and used as a home by the Sultan, it is now a museum dedicated to the country. To its north, is another museum, The Palace Museum. Step in here if you want to know how the royalty lived way back in time. An especially impressive specimen of architecture is the Old Dispensary, raised by a rich Indian to help the poor. It’s wonderful to look at with its windows in stained glass, the balconies resplendent with carved wood and the stucco detailing in the building.
It’s not just the buildings that will charm you. The Forodhani Gardens are a small park, a pretty garden that hosts a nightly food market. It’s vibrant, filled with tastes and sounds and fragrances and a great way to immerse yourself in the life and times of this place.