Monday, February 25, 2019

The amazing doors of STONE TOWN, Zanzibar

In the traditional Muslim community, since most homes are hidden by a wall, house doors play an important role. These doors may adopt a characteristic style according to the country like in Tunisia, or in Morocco. They are there to identify the owner in a certain way. A role that door-knockers also have everywhere. Sometimes the two form a combined association seeming to say: ''Show me your door, and I will tell you who you are''!
As the Zanzibar archipelago became an Omani territory from the 17thto 19thcenturies, it is no wonder to find a similarity between the two.

A few Omani Doors.
Old Muscat

A collection of STONE TOWN doors in Zanzibar.

As Zanzibar has been under the influence of India as well as from Oman, the style and the symbols on the doors may vary. Usually, a square door-frame indicates an Omani influence, whereas an upper rounded frame reveals an Indian origin, like most probably a lotus symbol indicating harmony. The Arabic inscriptions are quotes from the Koran and testify of the owner's religion. 

Besides, many traditional doors in Zanzibar are covered with brass studs. Originally, in India, these were a protection against war elephants. But since this defense is totally useless in Stone Town, this feature is purely decorative but quite a distinctive sign of Zanzibari doors!






Christian Sorand

Saturday, February 23, 2019

STONE TOWN, Zanzibar

Sunset on the Zanzibar Channel from Baboo Café in Stone Town
For long, I had dreamed of visiting Zanzibar, and so it was inscribed into my bucket list. This recent trip has truly thrilled me and I came back full of wonderful memories, stories ans pictures.
Before going, I had some security concern concerning this part of Africa but they quickly turned out
Map of Unguja island,
to be unfounded. People have always been very nice and were even very friendly. On top of that, food was always varied and delicious due to the multi-cultural background of the island.
The archipelago of Zanzibar has a long history of European, Persian, Omani and Indian past mixing with the local Swahili people. 
The main island is called Unguja. This is where Stone Town – the old city – is. Its name derives from its original construction by the Portuguese, who used coral stones to build the ancient city. Actually, Stone Town is now part of a larger city known as Zanzibar City (pop.more than 200,000).The newer part of town, a bit more noisy and chaotic is calledNg'amboin Swahili, which means ''the Other Side''.
Zanzibar has long been known through History. The Phoenicians came here commissioned by the ancient Egyptians on the first ever trading route called The Incense trade route. Then the Portuguese came here on their way to the Far East and opened The Spice trade routeLater, Persian merchants also came to the island, replaced later by the Omani in the 17thc. Stone Town even became the Omani capital in the 19thc, before becoming the Sultanate of Zanzibar. It was at this time, that the slave trade route started. Finally, it also was a British protectorate. This is why most people now speak English besides Swahili (a language mixed with many Arabic words)! Although Zanzibar is part of Tanzania, it has an autonomous status.
Stone Town map
Due to its multiculturalism and the historic background of the “old city”, Stone Town has become a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2,000.
Stone Town displays a charm of its own. You can easily get lost in its maze of narrow streets, where no cars can go through. There are many old palaces. Some have been restored, others are waiting for a better time. But what remains a truly highlight are all the doors of the old town. Some have a rounded top as thy have an Indian background; others are square-shaped from the Omani influence. Many old building facades have a wooden balustrade, inherited from the Omani period. If most people here are Muslims, other religions live in harmony within the community. The Indians have their own temples; there is a huge Anglican cathedral (19th Christ Church) and the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph built by French missionaries between 1893-97 in the design of the Marseilles Cathedral!
The main sites are the following:
*A lovely seaside promenade having the Forodhani Gardens at one end, a lovely park with cafés that becomes alive with food stalls in the evening.
*Along the main sea walk, there are some major landmarks:
-The Old Dispensary, built by a rich Indian merchant to be a charity hospital and recently restored by the Agha Khan foundation with an absolutely remarkable facade.
-The Hotel Mizingani (where I stayed), an old Omani palace with a wonderful seafront balustrade.
-The Music Academy, next door: great view on its rooftop terrace.
-The Palace Museum (Beit-el-Sahel), also known as the Sultan's Palace.
-The House of Wonders (Beit-al-Ajaib, 1883), another former Sultan's residence (currently under renovation).
-The Old Fort built by the Omanis in the 17thc, lying just next to the House of Wonders.
*Kenyatta Road is a rather touristic street of Stone House: it has many shops (and many are jewelry
Mizingani Seafront Hotel
shops, promoting Tanzanian gems ans particularly the blue 'tanzanite'); cafés, bars and restaurants, as well as a well-known souvenir emporium called 'Memories'. This is where Freddie Mercury's House is, but you cannot visit it because it has become a hostel. Deep further in the street, there is also an old carpenter shop that still makes wonderful Zanzibari wood trunks with brass carvings. Almost across the street is another example of a former palace turned into a hotel (the Dhow Palace).
*On the promontory, facing th Zanzibar Channel, there is a lovely shaded square called Kelele Square, with some fine old buildings and top-notch hotels.
*A bit further on Shangani Street, right in front of Africa House Hotel, there is another great open place called Shangani Gardens facing a sand beach with many fishing boats. This is where is Baboo Beach Café, that quickly became my favorite while in town.
At Baboo Beach Café
But of course there are many other awesome places within the old city maze. For instance, there is another palace turned into a spa, a hotel and a rooftop restaurant called Mistress of Spices. On the other hand, the Seyyida Hotel near Mizingani seafront Road has a lovely decoration and a nice rooftop restaurant but their prices are outrageously high!
For the most adventurous, I would certainly recommend to walk past the commercial harbor as far as the fish market and the dhow port, a sight not to forget! 
All in all Stone Town has a lot to offer and is undoubtedly the right place to stay and visit during a trip to Unguja island.
Christian Sorand
Old Dispensary
Forodhani Gardens
A street of Stone Town
African Art
Kelele Square

Inside the Old Fort
Interior of St. Joseph's
Wooden verandas on a facade

Christ Church Cathedral
Monument to the slaves
at the Anglican Cathedral
Indian temple
Spice display at a local market
House balcony
At the fish market
Muslim family

Street scene
Window display
Beach colors