Walking Tour of Zanzibar, Tanzania
Zanzibar, Tanzania, is a city which people tend to associate with exotic images. It was always famous as a trading location for its spices, especially cloves, and was actually a separate country until 1964 when it merged with Tanganyika to form the modern country of Tanzania. The area that is called Zanzibar is actually made up of two coral islands, Umguja and Pemba. It is on the island of Umguja that the famous Stone Town, recognized as a World Heritage Site, is found.
Stone Town, in its heyday in the 19th century, was an important center for international trade and the most important city in East Africa. It has managed to preserve much of its charm and architecture, probably because the end of the slave trade caused a shift in focus to other cities with more important commodities.
Walking through the city’s narrow streets and alleyways reveals much of what Zanzibar was, in the past. Be sure to notice the doors of the buildings during your walk. They are elaborate, carved, and notable, and one of the things that Stone Town is most famous for.
My walk begins at the Tourist Information Center, on the docks at the Harbor and Ferry Port, the embarkation point for most visitors. As you leave the docks, turn right onto Mizingani Road, which traverses the shoreline and accesses many of the city major sights.
The Old Dispensary, one of Zanzibar’s most elegant landmarks, is on your left. Just beyond it is the Big Tree, a huge Banyan Tree, planted in 1911. The next attraction of note is the Palace Museum, former residence of the sultan, later referred to as the “Peoples’ Palace,” because of its role in the Revolution (1964).
Further to the southwest is Beit-el-Ajaib (House of Wonders) which served as the Sultan’s palace when first built in 1883 and still stands out as the tallest building in town and its most prominent landmark.
Beyond the House of Wonders is Omani Fort (Ngome Kongwe), once the city jail and location for public executions. It now functions as a cultural center, even hosting live concerts in the evenings.
Across from the fort are the Forodhani Gardens, once a holding place for slaves, prior to their auction. Stroll around the grounds before proceeding. Continue southwest, along the waterfront, on Shangani Street, which curves southward, by Kelele Square. When the road forks, bear left and then left again on Suicide Alley, to visit Tippu Tip’s House, former residence of an infamous slave trader.
Now, reverse direction and follow Suicide Alley to Kenyatta Street. At the major intersection ahead, bear right on Kaunda Street to see the High Court Building, and the State House, as well as Victoria Gardens and Victoria Hall, once the residence of the sultan’s harem.
When you reach Creek Road, turn left. Beit al-Amani (the House of Peace) is on your left. Further to the northeast, as you progress, on Creek Road, is the Former Slave Market and the Anglican Cathedral, an interesting juxtaposition. The Cathedral was built in 1887 to commemorate the end of the slave trade, and has impressive marble pillars and beautiful stained glass windows. Just beyond is the Central Market, one of the liveliest and most pungent places in town. Continue on Creek Road to the Bharmal Building, prominent city architect, J.H. Sinclair’s most impressive work. Now, turn left on Gulioni Road, and straight ahead, onto Malawi Road, past the Blue Mosque, and down to the waterfront pier, where the walk began.