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Africa Travel Guide - Zanzibar
Top 10 reasons to visit Zanzibar in Africa
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Unguja Island, (Zanzibar)
1. Zanzibar Indian Ocean Beaches

The paradisiacal shores of Zanzibar are as exotic as its name. Rugged coral and limestone scarps form a sheltered backdrop to tranquil, caster-sugar beaches that slope gently down into crystal-clear waters, abundant with marine life. Tall coconut palms and stalking Pandanus cast their wandering shadows over the white sands and swaying hammocks, while Green Wood Hoopoes and Weaverbirds flit and flutter between the green leaves and pendulous fruit high above.

Pristine beach locations of Zanzibar include areas such as: Mangapwani, a rather remote and therefore more peaceful and less visited beach location, and its golden sands fringed with Palm trees and Screw Pines have the tranquil atmosphere of a lost paradise. Further up, on the northern tip of the island, is the popular Nungwi Peninsular, with its boat building industry, coral lagoons and Turtle Aquarium. On the northeastern coast are the seemingly endless crystalline shores of Matemwe and Mchangani. It is down this eastern seaboard that most of the luxury resort hotels are located, although there are also wonderful locations further south at Michamvi, Bwejuu and Jambiani. On the Southern tip of the Island are some remote and rugged beaches, yet there are adventures and activities like dolphin watching.

2. Stone Town

A Literary Walk Through Stone Town Zanzibar Architecture, Culture and History

The historically, culturally and architecturally important capital town of Zanzibar Island is a World Heritage Site. In Stone Town, one can spend many idle hours wandering through the narrow labyrinthine streets and alleyways where mosses and lichens cling to damp crumbling coral-rag walls and pools of sunlight wash the small squares and street front cafes in a warm glow. The narrow lanes snake between over 2,000 buildings where shops, Internet-cafes, market stalls and restaurants vie for space with various monuments and structures of cultural pride. Every turning gives on to a new vista, be it a quiet courtyard, scene of old men chatting under looming shade trees or a busy corner with a crowd of people watching International football on a TV set, balanced precariously on a stack of orange crates. The chants of the Quran may draw you towards a cool and ancient Madrassa tucked away in a sleepy comer, or you may glance up at the girlish laughter tinkling down from a latticed balcony high above, where dark eyes flash within the velvet shadows.

One's first view of Zanzibar is usually that of the port and sea front seen from the ferry as it slows down to negotiate the moored craft in the harbor. Along this variegated skyline are paraded some of the most impressive buildings to be found on the islands, all overlooked by the Clock Tower atop the House of Wonders. After clearing immigration, one wanders out of the Port Authority and turns right onto Mizingani Road. The first of the wonderful buildings one passes is the grand, four-story old Khoja Shia Itnasheri Dispensary, with its particularly decorative balconies.

Located opposite the new port buildings, the dispensary was built in the 1890s with money provided by a prominent Indian merchant and banker, Tharia Topan. Numbered amongst his clients was the notorious slave-trader, Tippu Tip.

A little further along the Mizingani Road, the Palace Museum (Beit-al-Sahel) was originally built and served as the official residence of the Sultan of Zanzibar until January 12
th 1964, when the dynasty was overthrown in the Zanzibar Revolution. It serves as a museum devoted to the era of the Zanzibar sultanate. The ground or first floor displays details of the formative period of the sultanate from 1828 to 1870 during which commercial treaties were signed between Zanzibar, United States of America, Britain and France. Inside the museum is the memorabilia of Princess Salme, one of the few famous women in the history of Zanzibar. Born on 30 August 1844, Princess Salme was one of the daughters of Sultan Seyyid Said of Oman, who was the first Sultan of Zanzibar. Princess Salme, or Seyyida Salme binti Said bin Sultan Al Busaidiya, to give her full name, was born of a slave mother. Her name was Jilfidan; she was tall and strong with startling blue eyes, pale ivory colored skin and long black hair that came down to her knees.

In 1856, when Salme was 12, her father, Sultan Seyyid Said, died, and Sultan Seyyid Majid succeeded to the throne. Princess Salme's dearly loved mother died three years later during a cholera epidemic. Sometime in 1865, Princess Salme met Rudolph Heinrich Reute, a German businessman. The couple soon became lovers. In early August 1866, news came to Sultan Majid's palace that Princess Salme was pregnant by the European man. Her carnal association with an infidel and her pregnancy by him were strictly forbidden and considered an unforgivable crime. Because she feared for her life, on August 24, 1866, with the support of the British consul, Dr. John Kirk, Princess Salme fled Zanzibar to Aden. Her baby boy was born in Aden on December 7, 1866. He was baptized in the Anglican Church in April 1867 with the name of Heinrich. Princess Salme converted to Christianity and was later baptized Emily. Soon after she married Rudolph, her lover and father of her child, the family settled in Hamburg, Germany. Salme died on February 29
th 1924, at the age of 80. Available in the Palace museum are the books titled "Memoirs of an Arabian Princess" and "Emily Reute, gebornen Salme, Prinzessin von Oman und Sansibar (1844-1924)".

The exhibits on the second floor focus on the period of affluence from 1870 to 1896 during which modern amenities such as piped water and electricity were introduced to Zanzibar under Sultan Barghash. The third floor consists of the modest living quarters of Sultan Khalifa bin Haroub (1911 to 1960) and his two wives, both of whom clearly had different tastes in furniture. Outside the museum is the Makusurani Graveyard where some of the Sultans were buried.

Lying just south of the Palace Museum, The House of Wonders (Beit-al-Ajaib) was formerly the Palace of Sultan Barghash. It gets its name from the fact it was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity, and the hundreds of light bulbs glowing at night must have made it truly a wondrous house. This four-story building, surrounded by wide and spacious verandas and topped by a highly visible clock tower, was built in 1883 and is one of the largest structures in Zanzibar. The clock tower also houses the port's shipping controller.

One can walk around the outside gardens and look at the huge carved doors and the two old bronze cannons that bear Portuguese inscriptions. In 1896, the palace was the target of British bombardments intended to force the Sultan Khalid bin Barghash, who had tried to seize the throne after the death Sultan Hamad, to abdicate in favor of a British nominee. After its rebuild, Sultan Hamoud, who ruled Zanzibar from 1902 to 1911, used its upper floor as a residential palace until his death.

Next to Beit-al-Ajaib and occupying the site of an old Portuguese Chapel, is The Old Fort. The Abusaidi family of Omani Arabs, who had gained control of Zanzibar in 1698, following two centuries of Portuguese occupation, built this massive structure in the 1700s. The Arabs used the fort to defend themselves against the Portuguese and against a rival Omani group. In recent years, it has been partially renovated to house the Zanzibar Cultural Centre. In an inner courtyard lies a stone-built amphitheatre that hosts performances of local music and dance, such as Taarab, Zanzibar's most popular form of music. There is a small tourist information office, a gift shop and art gallery, and the very pleasant Neem Tree Cafe.

Continuing ones journey of discovery into the hinterland of Stone Town, one comes across various other buildings, such as the Anglican Cathedral. The oldest Christian Church of its kind in East Africa, the Cathedral stands on the site of the public slave market, on the eastern side of Stone Town. The Universities Mission in Central Africa (UMCA) constructed it in 1877 when the slave trade was abolished. The altar is built somewhat incongruously, directly over the site of the Slave Whipping Post, which was, in reality, a tree. Outside there is a somber monument to the memory of the countless number of slaves who passed through the islands' markets. The life-like stone statues of male and female slaves, attached with iron shackles and chains, stand in a pit symbolizing not only their inhumane incarceration but also depth of their despair. The church was the first Anglican Cathedral to be built in East Africa and is still in use today.
Nothing remains of the Slave Market except beneath the nearby St. Monica's Hostel, are some underground chambers or holding cells, a small but terrible reminder of the dark side of humanity.

Just outside Stone Town, to the northeast along Malawi Road, stands Livingstone House. Sultan Said Majid, who ruled Zanzibar and Tanzania's coast from 1856 to 1870, built it around 1860. This building is named after the well known and respected missionary-cum-explorer, Dr. David Livingstone, who used it as a base for his wanderings. During the second half of the 19
th century, several other European missionaries and explorers, such as Burton and Speke, used it as the starting point for their expeditions to the interior of Africa.

Most of houses were built during the 19
th century, when Zanzibar became the trading center of East Africa. The majority of the old buildings in the Stone Town are used as residential flats on the upper floors and business premises on the ground floors. Some of these buildings have been converted or utilized as modem tourist hotels and restaurants. The narrow streets provide a unique picture of the old, historical Zanzibar. They are active, lively places during the day, but at night become relatively quiet; the busy nightlife being mainly confined to Forodhani Gardens and within the several disco clubs and bars that provide entertainment until the early hours.

The fruit and food market built in 1904, is about halfway along Creek Road (now renamed Benjamin Mkapa Road), and is a good place for shopping and sightseeing. It is an attractive place full of fresh farm produce but the most evocative products are the scented spices and seafood. People from various parts of Zanzibar bring their produce here, while petty traders have outside stalls surrounding the big market hall, where they sell industrial products ranging from sewing machines to second hand clothes and motor vehicle spare parts. Early in the morning, the air is awash with the smells of freshly baked bread on one side, with that of fresh fish on the other.

Built by Sultan Said Barghash in the late 19
th century, the Hamamni Persian Baths were the first public baths in Zanzibar. Although they are no longer functioning, they are maintained in near-perfect condition. To go inside the baths, one must ask the caretaker, living opposite, to unlock the gate; there is a nominal entrance fee, which goes towards the upkeep of the building. Explanatory plaques are situated at salient points around the baths and chambers.

The old Peace Memorial Museum (Beit el Amani) contains exhibits and records, which make up the rich history of Zanzibar, from the early days of the Omani Sultans and the British colonial period right up until independence. This magnificent structure houses old and new history books, a selection of archaeological findings, plus records of early trade, slavery, palaces, mosques, sultans, explorers and missionaries, in addition to exhibits of traditional crafts, stamps and coins.

The museum also contains Dr. David Livingstones' memorabilia, as well as the drums used by the Sultans and a priceless collection of old lithographs, maps and photographs dating from the 19
th and early 20th centuries. The smaller building houses a natural history collection specializing in butterflies, fish, small mammals, snakes and shells. The museum is located at the junction of Kaunda and Creek roads.

Maruhubi Palace Ruins

The Maruhubi Palace is about four kilometers from Zanzibar Town. Sultan Said Barghash constructed the palace between 1880 and 1882 as a harem to accommodate his concubines; in 1889, however, a large fire gutted the palace and it was left derelict. Two bathhouses remain intact, although somewhat neglected, and one may enter and walk around inside. Outside, surrounded by undulating lawns, there are many remains of the buildings, including some massive stone pillars, which once supported a large overhead balcony and aqueduct. To one side is a low stone basin, containing water lilies and pond life. This site is an ideal and peaceful place for a picnic and to escape the bustle of Stone Town for a couple of hours. A short walk brings one to the beach where local fishermen carry out net and boat repairs and preparations for their fishing trips.

Dunga Ruins

Dunga Ruins are those of a palace, and are located on the main road to Chwaka Bay, about halfway across the island. The palace was built and used by the last and most feared chiefs in the line of rulers of the Islands. The ruins date back to the 15th century when early Arab settlements on the coast flourished.

Mtoni Palace Ruins

Mtoni Palace lies next to Maruhubi Palace Ruins. The area was chosen by Sultan Said bin Sultan for his palace, which was constructed between 1828 and 1834 after he left Muscat and made Zanzibar his throne.

Beir-el-Ras Palace Ruins

These ruins are situated on the shore. The fine arches are all that remain of this Persian-built structure. Although building started in 1847, Sultan Sayyid Said died before its completion, and custom prevented his successor form continuing the work. Many of the stones were moved and used in constructing a seven-mile stretch of the Bububu Railway.

The Slave Chambers and Coral Caves of Mangapwani

Just north of Mangapwani Beach, on the northwest coast, are two underground features. The first is a huge natural cave, hollowed out of the limestone and coral by water erosion. A steep stairway descends into this large chamber, which can be flooded in the heavy rains. A low tunnel leads underground from the huge cavern all the way to the beach, lying some distance away, and, in the dry season, the local guardian will escort visitors on a torch-lit trek through its dark passage. Legend has it that following the abolition of the slave trade this cave was used by illegal traders to secrete their slaves before spiriting them away through the tunnel to awaiting pirate ships. It is somewhat surprising that despite its location and convenient arcane access to the sea, there is no evidence this cave was ever used for this clandestine purpose. The nearby Slave Chambers, however, were specially constructed for holding slaves prior to transportation. Some three kilometers north of the Coral Cave, one can see two large sloping stone slabs, just above ground level. These slabs are actually roofs, which cover a set of small underground chambers in which over one hundred slaves would have been packed, awaiting the arrival of the merchant ships to transport them away. To descend the steep and moss-covered steps leading down into this ''bottomless pit" is, even now, like entering the gateway to doom.

Chuini Palace Ruins

This palace, built by Sultan Barghash, lies on an artificial terrace behind a creek, which allowed a sufficient inflow of water as to supply the hammam, or bathhouse. North of the palace is the chimney of a steam-powered sugar factory built by the Sultan.

Bi Khole Ruins At Bungi

The house at Bungi was the residence of Bi Khole Binti Said bin Sultan, a girl born to an Assyrian slave of the Sultan. It is said that Bi Khole was so beautiful that she could mesmerize a man with a mere glance. During a performance of an Arab Sword Dance at Beit Sahel Palace, one of the participants was so enthralled by Bi Khole's looks that he did not realize he poked himself with a saber until he noticed blood flowing from his lap.

The Ancient Mosque At Kizimkazi

Kizimkazi, almost at the southern tip of the Island, is the site of a Shirazi Mosque dating from the early 12h century and considered to be one of the oldest Islamic buildings on the East African coast. Restoration of the Mosque to the condition we see it today was made in the 1770s. The Quranic verses inscribed in its Mihrab, date from 500AH (1107AD) and are the earlier physical evidence of the introduction of Islam into southern part of East Africa.

Nearby, just above the high water mark on the beach, are the remains of an 18
th century stonewall, which once formed a defensive perimeter around the whole settlement. The merchant who built the wall, and for whom the village is named after, resisted the Portuguese invaders and was taken prisoner. He pleaded with his captors to be allowed to say his prayers on the beach before being taken away. They permitted this and never saw him again!

Kidichi Persian Baths

Kidichi Persian Baths are located about 11 kilometers northeast of town on one of the Spice Tour routes. Sultan Seyyid Said built them in 1850 for his Persian wife. The baths are well maintained both inside and out, with some very good examples of the domed skylights that allowed light to enter the windowless buildings.

Fukuchani Ruins and Mvuleni Ruins

The enclosure houses at Fukuchani and Mvuleni are located about halfway between Mkwajuni and Ras Nungwi on the northern part of the island. These 16th century coral rag houses built in stonewall enclosures represent a group of the finest domestic stone house architectures of this period.

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