Tuesday, January 3, 2012

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Stone Town as a city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.  It was accepted as a World Heritage site based on the following information (ref-whc.unesco.org):

  1. The Stone Town of Zanzibar is an outstanding material manifestation of cultural fusion and harmonization.
  2. For many centuries there was intense seaborne trading activity between Asia and Africa, and this is illustrated in an exceptional manner by the architecture and urban structure of the Stone Town.
  3. Zanzibar has great symbolic importance in the suppression of slavery, since it was one of the main slave-trading ports in East Africa and also the base from which its opponents such as David Livingstone conducted their campaign

As a result of these three points, there are several great historical sites to see within Stone Town. I love walking tours and so I organized a day where Jon and I got lost throughout Stone Town trying to find each and every significant historical site that helped Stone Town become the historical wonder that it is today.  The true challenge of such an endeavor is that there are dozens upon dozens of little alleyways and no real map to find where you are or where you are going.  Jon and I have spent hours lost in these alleyways, going in circles, and sometimes, never reaching our destination.  

The first place we visited is called the Beit El Sahel or now known as the Palace Museum.  The Sultan's of Zanzibar used to live here until 1964 which is when Zanzibar became a part of Tanzania. It is now a museum dedicated to the Sultans and gave us a better understanding of the history of Zanzibar. 

palace museum

Following our visit to the Palace Museum, we walked a short distance to reach The House of Wonders also known locally as the Beit El-Ajaib.  It’s one of the largest buildings on Zanzibar island and was built back in 1883. It’s interesting to see since the doors are considered to be the largest carved doors in East Africa.  It is currently serving as a museum which was well worth the visit.  It gave historical information regarding the coastal regions of Tanzania and much about Stone Town itself.  However, the best reason to visit the House of Wonders is to go onto the balcony on the third floor of the building.  You can see the beautiful waters of Zanzibar, a lot of Stone Town, and just enjoy the quietness all the way up there.  Jon and I really enjoyed the balcony because no one else joined us.  We sat there people-watching and just enjoying observing life below us. 

   largest door

beit el ajaib2

This historical site below is simply referred to as the “Old Fort”.  It was built around year 1700 by the people who were currently inhabiting Zanzibar (those from Oman).  It was used to fight off the Portuguese at the time.  There’s really not much to the fort besides looking at it unless of course you want to partake in all the super touristy things inside (tourist shops, cultural shows, and a nice restaurant).

old fort

These three historical sites above were simple to find. You simply head to the water and will find them without any problem.  The next site, the Hamamni Persian Baths were much more difficult to locate.  It was a true test to our patience in seeing how badly we wanted to find the first public baths on Zanzibar.  These were built in the late nineteenth century.  The bathhouse included a room to remove your clothes, toilet rooms, bathing room, and steam rooms.  It was very difficult to understand what the guide of the place was explaining because the inside echoed very loudly.  But, it’s not too difficult to see what each room was meant to do.


The next place on our walking tour was also a very difficult site to locate.  Although we could see St. Joseph’s Cathedral from a distance, it seemed that every alley we took did not lead us to it.  After about 25 minutes of searching, we found the front gates which were locked.  Finally, after 10 more minutes of additional confusion, we found the entrance to the back and could check out the grounds of the church and see inside.  The church was built by French missionaries in 1898 and is unique to find on an incredibly Muslim-dominated island.


Since Zanzibar is a dominantly Muslim location, it is only natural to visit some mosques.  We did not enter any as there are certain customs to enter them and neither Jon nor I know what to do.  We visited three from the outside.  The first one shown below is called Msikiti wa Balnara which is the oldest mosque in Stone Town and was built in 1831.  You can tell is is older by the condition of the tower below.


The next mosque we visited is called Ijumaa Mosque.  Although we were not permitted to enter, the graveyard of this mosque has many Muslim scholars buried here.  It is claimed to have been built in the 1800s as well, although, as you can tell, it has been nicely refurbished.


The last mosque was right near our hotel but we were unable to get a good picture of it because it was too hard to get an angle of it from the alleys.  The next place was an easy find since you see it as soon as you get out of the ferry port.  It is a beautifully refurbished building which they refer to as the “Old Dispensary” and was built in the very late 1800s.  It’s another nice location to get away from the crowds and walk up to a third story balcony and look out.


Finally, our last stop of the day which took hours to find and Jon was certain we entered the twilight zone since we felt like we just kept circling it and never reached it was the Anglican Church which was built in the 1870s and was the first Anglican cathedral in East Africa.  Unfortunately, we could not enter the church since it stands on historical slave market grounds and they wanted to charge us to see the church for that reason alone.  Since we are certain they are not charging locals to go to church, we did not want to pay.  It was a gigantic building and looked very old!


Since we found the Anglican church at dusk, it concluded our walking tour and we enjoyed a delicious dinner followed by a nice evening with running water and electricity in our hotel room!

1 comment:

  1. Very cool. At least you had Jon along to help navigate. :)