Stone Town, also known as Mji Mkongwe (Swahili for “old town”), is the old part of Zanzibar City, the main city of Zanzibar, in Tanzania. (The newer portion of the city is known as Ng’ambo, Swahili for ‘the other side’). Stone Town is located on the western coast of Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago. Former capital of the Zanzibar Sultanate, and flourishing centre of the spice trade as well as the slave trade in the 19th century, it retained its importance as the main city of Zanzibar during the period of the British protectorate. When Tanganyika and Zanzibar joined each other to form the United Republic of Tanzania, Zanzibar kept a semi-autonomous status, with Stone Town as its local government seat.
Stone Town is a city of prominent historical and artistic importance in East Africa. Its architecture, mostly dating back to the 19th century, reflects the diverse influences underlying the Swahili culture, giving a unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements. For this reason, the town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
Due to its heritage, Stone Town is also a major visitor attraction in Tanzania, and a large part of its economy depends on tourism-related activities. The heart of Stone Town mostly consists of a maze of narrow alleys lined by houses, shops, bazaars and mosques. Since most streets are too narrow for cars, the town is crowded with bicycles and motorbikes. The seafront has wider streets and larger, more regularly placed buildings.
Stone Town’s architecture has a number of distinctive features, as a result of Arab, Persian, Indian, European, and African traditions mixing together. The name “Stone Town” comes from the ubiquitous use of coral stone as the main construction material; this stone gives the town a characteristic, reddish warm colour. Traditional buildings have a baraza, a long stone bench along the outside walls; this is used as an elevated sidewalk if heavy rains make the streets impracticable, or otherwise as benches to sit down, rest, socialize. Another key feature of most buildings is large verandas protected by carved wooden balustrades. The most well-known feature of Zanzibari houses are the finely decorated wooden doors, with rich carvings and bas-reliefs, sometimes with big brass studs of Indian tradition. Two main types of doors can be distinguished: those of Indian style have rounded tops, while those in the Omani Arab style are rectangular. Carvings are often Islamic in content (for example, many consist of verses of the Qur’an), but other symbolism is occasionally used, e.g., Indian lotus flowers as emblems of prosperity.
Besides having interesting architectural features in most of its houses, Stone Town is punctuated with major historical buildings, several of which are found on the seafront; these include former palaces of the sultans, fortifications, churches, mosques, and other institutional buildings.
While Stone Town was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 2000, this designation does not provide complete protection for the town’s heritage. Despite the establishment of a Conservation Authority, about 80% of the 1,709 buildings of Stone Town are in a deteriorating condition. As coral stone is very friable, frequent maintenance is needed for most of these buildings. Some major restoration projects (especially on the seafront) have been done in recent times by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC).
Only 200m away
The park site occupies the largest remaining stand of near-natural forest on Zanzibar. The forest rests upon a reef limestone marine terrace. Habitats within the park and associated protected lands include a groundwater forest, coastal forest, and grassland, with mangroves and salt marsh at the coast
Only 300m away
Zanzibar Curio Shop is located at 200 Hurumzi Street, Stone Town, Zanzibar City, Tanzania. Find all the fancy and trending jewelry right here at the store.
Only 300m away
With its pale-orange ramparts overlooking Forodhani Gardens and the ocean beyond, the fort was built by Omani Arabs when they seized the island from the Portuguese in 1698, and over the centuries it's had various uses, from prison to tennis club. Today the scale of the fortifications is still impressive, although there has been some modernisation inside, notably a line of souvenir shops and a pleasant cafe that turns into a bar in the evening.
Only 600m away
Built by Sultan Barghash in the late 19th century, these were the first public baths on Zanzibar. The various rooms were renovated in 2017 and, although there’s no longer water inside, it's easy to imagine them in use in bygone days. If the entrance door is closed, ask at the Cultural Arts Centre opposite.
Only 1km away
This is at the southern end of stone town, near the junction of creek road and kaunda road in the area called Mnazi Moja. It is also known by its local title: Beit El Amani (House of Peace). With its distinctive dome, arabesque windows and whitewashed walls, the building looks like a mosque or basilica church.
Only 23km away
The park site occupies the largest remaining stand of near-natural forest on Zanzibar. The forest rests upon a reef limestone marine terrace. Habitats within the park and associated protected lands include a groundwater forest, coastal forest, and grassland, with mangroves and salt marsh at the coast.