I’m not usually one for guided tours, especially arranged by hotels. In Zanzibar, however, we opted for tour of historic Stone Town arranged by the Park Hyatt. It was well worth it.
Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and mixes Arab, European, Indian, Persian, and Swahili architecture in a way that is enchanting. Imagine a labyrinth of narrow alleys with churches, mosques, and stores. Imagine colorful clothes and the smell of exotic spices and cooking. Finally, imagine the history that transpired within this city.
I touched on the history of Zanzibar in my ferry incident post and I will remind you that for three hundred years the island nation was occupied by colonial overlords, first the Portuguese and later the Omanis and British.
We in the West tend to think of East Africa when we thing about slave trade. Indeed, most of the slaves to North and South America came from other side of the continent. But sadly, Africa was raped and pillaged from both sides. Zanzibar was the epicenter of the Arab slave trade, and a bloody trade it was.
Outside the Anglican Church is monument to the lack of humanity slavery represents. A group of men and women in a pit chained together. The facial expressions are heartbreaking.
The slave trade in Zanzibar was legal until 1876 but slavery itself remained legal until 1897. Without intense pressure from Great Britain, the Omani rulers would likely have never abolished the lucrative slave trade. An estimated 80,000 slaves died each year in transport to Zanzibar for selling! Oh, what a world.
From Despair to Hope
The Anglican Church in Stone Town was constructed on the site of the former slave market. The church’s altar is the former selling block for slaves, the platform in which chained slaves were forced to “model” for potential buyers and in which families were permanently separated (aka, the whipping post).
Understanding the cruelty of humanity’s past is essential to ensuring that history does not repeat itself.
The private tour cost $50 and took about 3.5hours by foot. Other highlights included the abandoned House of Wonders. Built for the Sultan of Zanzibar in 1883, it was the first building in East Africa to have an elevator and the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity.
Zanzibar is home to the shortest war in history. While Oman may have have been the de jure ruler of Zanzibar until the 1964 revolution, the British Empire heavily influenced life in Zanzibar and was the de facto ruler after 1896. After the death of a pro-British Omani sultan, a power struggle ensued and the British did not like the new sultan. An ultimatum was given to install a family member more amenable to British interests and when that was denied, war broke out.
For a whole 45 minutes.
British gunships were too much for the Omani sultanate and the war was over almost as quickly as it started, making it the shortest recorded war in history. You can read more about the war here.
I narrowed down my pictures to 105, but figured that was still too much for a single post. Instead, I’ve created a slideshow so you can navigate through each picture without waiting forever for this page to load. I have also included a caption beside each picture to provide context. If you prefer to look at all the pictures at once, click on “View All” and you can see thumbnails for all pictures and click on only the ones you want to see. My five favorite pictures are below.
Click on the Start button to begin the photo tour.