A quick guide to Stone Town
Stone Town is located along the west coast of Zanzibar Island and is considered to be one of the most traditional of remaining old Swahili trading settlements that would have been prevalent in East Africa. It resembles the labyrinth style medina’s of north Africa and Morocco with all the narrow streets, twists, and turns. Influences have come from the Portuguese who developed Stone Town as a trading port in 1503 and the Omani Arabs who expelled the Portuguese and built a fort, which stands largely unaltered, completed in 1701. The Omani quickly established themselves with the riches brought from the slave trade and soon the mud huts turned into stone. The first stone buildings were constructed during the reign of the Omani sultan, Seyyid Said, who in 1832 shifted his capital from Muscat to Stone Town. This building boom lasted approximately 60 years and accounts for most of what we see today.
When the British Protectorate over Zanzibar was enforced in 1890 Stone Town was more or less complete, and remains largely unchanged except for a few buildings along the waterfront which the British bombarded in 1896 during, what’s called the ‘Shortest War in History’. This ‘War’ lasted for around 45 minutes and was undertaken to ensure their choice of Sultan took power. Aside from this, the British impact on the architecture of the city was nominal. Instead, they concentrated their efforts on cleaning up the city which during the 19th century had been synonymous with filth, squalor, and slavery.
Today a more romantic view of Zanzibar has taken shape. By the 1960’s many western artists and musicians had visited and were inspired by the quaint charm and natural beauty of the island. In more settled times Stone Town has attracted back many foreign settlers who’s houses nestle into the coastline and tourism has brought in much-needed money.
Modern Stone Town has everything, from banks to hotels, markets, shops and restaurant’s, however it is impossible not to feel that you have stepped back in time as you wander around and explore the city.