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is an archipelago made up of Zanzibar and Pemba Islands, and several
islets. It is located in the Indian Ocean, about 25 miles from the
Tanzanian coast, and 6° south of the equator. Zanzibar Island
(known locally as Unguja, but as Zanzibar internationally) is 60
miles long and 20 miles wide, occupying a total area of approximately
650 square miles.
It is characterised by beautiful sandy
beaches with fringing coral reefs, and the magic of historic Stone
Town - said to be the only functioning ancient town in East Africa.
There are no large wild animals in
and forest areas such as Jozani are inhabited by monkeys, bush-pigs
and small antelopes. Civets - and rumour has it, the elusive Zanzibar
leopard! Various species of mongoose can also be found on the island.
There is a wide variety of birdlife, and a large number of butterflies
in rural areas. The coral reefs that surround the East Coast are
rich in marine diversity, and make Zanzibar an ideal location for
snorkelling and scuba diving.
Zanzibar's local people are an incredible mixture of ethnic backgrounds,
indicative of her colourful history. Islam is the dominant religion,
and practiced by most Zanzibaris, although there are also followers
of Christianity and Hinduism. Population is estimated at 800,000,
with the largest concentration being Zanzibar City which has approximately
Zanzibaris speak Swahili (known locally
as Kiswahili), a language which is spoken extensively in East Africa.
Many believe that the purest form is spoken in Zanzibar as it is
the birth place of the language.
Zanzibar's most famous event is
the Zanzibar Int. Film Festival, also known as the Festival of the
Dhow Countries. Every July, this event showcases the best of the
Swahili Coast arts scene, including Zanzibar's favourite music,
Zanzibar is an island state within the United Republic of Tanzania,
and has its own semi-autonomous government made up of a Revolutionary
Council and House of Representatives. The present government is
led by the island's President, Amani Karume. The government body
responsible for tourism promotion is the Zanzibar Commission of
Fishing and agriculture are the main economic activities of the
local people. Zanzibar was once the world's largest producer of
cloves, and her economy was based on large incomes thus derived.
Although cloves are still a major export along with coconut products
and spices, tourism has been ear-marked as the primary foreign exchange
earner, with more visitors coming to Zanzibar each year.
At this stage, the numbers are still
low (less than 100,000 annually) and the potential for tourism is
relatively untapped. Zanzibar's tourism private sector is represented
by the Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors.
It may not have a particularly romantic name, but Stone Town is
the old city and cultural heart of Zanzibar, little changed in the
last 200 years. It is a place of winding alleys, bustling bazaars,
mosques and grand Arab houses whose original owners vied with each
other over the extravagance of their dwellings. This one-upmanship
is particularly reflected in the brass-studded, carved, wooden doors
- there are more than 500 different examples of this handiwork.You
can spend many idle hours and days just wandering through the fascinating
labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways.
Most of the houses that can be seen today were built
in the 19th century when Zanzibar was one of the most important
trading centres in the Indian Ocean region. The coraline rock of
Zanzibar was a good building material, but it is also easily eroded.
This is evident by the large number of houses that are in a bad
state of repair. Several buildings have already been renovated and
the Stone Town Conservation Authority has been established to co-ordinate
the restoration of the town to its original magnificence.
Pictured opposite is a 'before and after' look at
the restoration work done on the Old Dispensary. As a result of
sensible policy, nearly all of the major hotels built in Stone Town
are housed in renovated buildings
As you walk through the town, please remember that
Stone Town is very much a real community, where real people live
and work. It is not a museum piece or theme park created for tourists,
and sensitivity should be shown to the local people.
If you want to learn more about Stone Town, there
are various ways to do it. You can either wander through the narrow
streets by yourself armed with a map, or you can embark on a tour
with one of the local tour operators. But first, take a look at
our list of places to visit in Stone Town.
Zanzibar has lured traders, adventurers, plunderers and explorers
to its shores for centuries...The Assyrians, Sumerians, Egyptians,
Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Portuguese, Omani Arabs,
Dutch and English have all been here at one time or another. Some,
particularly the Shirazi Persians and Omani Arabs, stayed to settle
and rule. With this influence, Zanzibar has become predominantly
Islamic (97%) - the remaining 3% is made up of Christians, Hindus
The earliest visitors to Zanzibar were Arab traders
who are said to have arrived in the 8th century. The earliest building
that remains on Zanzibar is the mosque at Kizimkazi which dates
from 1107, and is a present-day tourist attraction.
For centuries the Arabs sailed with the Monsoon
winds from Oman to trade primarily in ivory, slaves and spices.
The two main islands, Unguja (normally known as Zanzibar Island)
and Pemba, provided an ideal base for the Omani Arabs, being relatively
small, and therefore fairly easy to defend. From here it was possible
for them to control 1,000 miles of the mainland coast from present
day Mozambique to Somalia.
Indeed, in 1832, Sultan Seyyid Said, of the Busaid
Dynasty that had emerged in Oman, moved his Sultanate from Muscat,
which was perhaps more difficult to protect, to Zanzibar where he
and his descendants ruled for over 130 years. Most of the wealth
lay in the hands of the Arab community, who were the main landowners,
kept themselves to themselves, and generally did not intermarry
with the Africans.
This was not true of the Shirazi Persians who came
from the Middle East to settle on the East African coast. The story
goes that in AD 975, Abi Ben Sultan Hasan of Shiraz in Persia (now
Iran) had a terrible nightmare in which a rat devoured the foundations
of his house. He took this as an omen that his community was to
be devastated. Others in the Shiraz Court ridiculed the notion,
but Sultan Hasan, his family and some followers obviously took it
very seriously because they decided to migrate.
They set out in seven dhows into the Indian Ocean
but were caught in a huge storm and separated. Thus, landfalls were
made at seven different places along the East African coast, one
of which was Zanzibar, and settlements began. Widespread intermarriage
between Shirazis and Africans gave rise to a coastal community with
distinctive features, and a language derived in part from Arabic,
which became known as Swahili.
The name Swahili comes from the Arab word sawahil
which means 'coast'. The Zanzibar descendants of this group were
not greatly involved in the lucrative slave, spice and ivory trades.
Instead, they immersed themselves mainly in agriculture and fishing.
Those Shirazis that did not intermarry retained their identity as
a separate group.
Two smaller communities were also established. Indian
traders arrived in connection with the spice and ivory trade, and
quickly settled as shopkeepers, traders, skilled artisans, and professionals.
The British became involved in missionary and trading activities
in East Africa, and attempting to suppress the slave trade centred