The Ancient Stone Town in Zanzibar
Stone Town is a city in Zanzibar, Tanzania, an East African city notable for its tourism potential and rich history. it is one of the oldest and has the majority of the traditional influence on Tanzania. Also, the city is a prominent location that begins or wraps up your tour to Zanzibar, depending on how you want it.
There is so much to discover in the city that leaves you amazed and filled with remarkable memories of almost all the interests found there.
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Brief History of Stone Town
Stone Town which is the capital of Zanzibar where the administration is established is a historic city. It consists of waterfronts, islands, and ancient buildings that span centuries.
The name of this city- Stone Town was culled from the use of stones in building the major structures. This contributed to the firmness and durability of the facilities erected over time.
The history of the Town is traced to the 5th century when the city was gradually unfolding. The account also extends between the 8th to 16th century when Stone Town was famous for seafood, trades and fishing. However, in the 17th century, when the city encountered the slave trade, the Europeans had their way of enforcing labour and also took over the islands. The islands were ruled by Sultans- major leaders at that time, but the slaves were subjected to intense work and it is recorded that they gathered stones to build the Old Fort.
However, the era of slave labour ended in 1896 with a brief war, when the country gained her autonomy from the German empire and the United Kingdom. Since then, Stone Town, Zanzibar has continued to thrive and further embrace cultural values, tourism and trade. The city is an administrative region of Zanzibar and records the oldest tales you can ever be told about the revolution of Zanzibar.
Although the popular language in Stone Town is Swahili, the English language is also a good mode of communication in the city. Stone Town is also an original site of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
Over the years, it has welcomed prominent individuals like Freddie Mercury, Tippu Tip and David Livingstone, another remarkable one for the city.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Due to its impact, colonial and architectural beauty. The town has found its name on UNESCO World Heritage site. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in the year 2000. This has made UNESCO invest heavily in the maintenance of the beautiful city of stone.
Location of Stone Town
Stone Town is located on Unguja waterfront on the West of the major Zanzibar islands. It is about a 10- 15-minute drive from the Abeid Amani Karume International Airport in Tanzania.
Map of Stone Town
The Map of Stone Town covers the major attractions in the Zanzibar. Depending on the map that you are using, Google map shows all the important places and notable landmarks.
The Population of Stone Town
Stone Town is a city with less than 50 thousand occupants. Although the city is not so small, the residents are friendly as well as helpful to tourists.
Weather conditions in Stone Town
Quite favourable, Stone Town has a hot tropic atmosphere with temperatures of 16°C – 35°C every year. Also, between June and August, the weather condition in Stone Town is calm with less heat unlike from January to March.
The architecture of Stone Town
The structures in Stone Town were designed to last, first made from coral reefs which were collected underwater, then stones and soil plasters. This is visible in the old features of the buildings, concerning the rooftops, staircase, windows, doors, houses and public areas.
The entrance to most ancient buildings in Stone Town has wooden doors with neatly carved edges, Arabic inscriptions and Indian earmarks. These structures are as old as centuries and decades ago. Also, the buildings are made of brick and mud with narrow paths, stairs and cultural frameworks.
In Stone Town, the houses are constructed close to each other, leaving room for little walkways. Additionally, local shops and markets where handcrafted materials are sold also exist in residential areas.
Things to do in Stone Town
There are so many so many reasons to travel, here are some things to do in this beautiful town.
Learn more about the history of Stone Town
Stone Town city is a home of history, adventure and culture. This means that everyone visiting this place will be able to pick out the past life and recent developments of Zanzibar as a whole.
A trip to the Palace Museum
Your historical journey to Stone town is incomplete if you have not seen this place. This is because the museum is where you get the main details on the cultural existence of Stone Town at a little price. There are art exhibitions in the museum you can also see and listen to the museum instructor break down the wide concepts of Zanzibar to you.
Visit the markets- Darajani and Forodhani
The stone town has large markets where a variety of food items, artefacts, clothing and accessories are sold. On your tour around the city, you can visit the Darajani market early in the morning, where fish, seafood, fruits, spices, vegetables and other foodstuff are sold in large quantities.
Also, you can get entertained by the crowd who engage in buying and selling. Plus, the traders are quite open to giving you a little information on the seasonal farm produce.
Another major market in Stone Town is the Forodhani Night market. Here, you can buy and eat different food and street snacks which are sold at affordable prices. Locally made pizza, shawarma, fruit juices, potatoes, African cuisines, barbecue and other grilled beef can be found at this local market. The Forodhani market has amazing coastal scenery that makes it conducive and welcoming too.
Tour the historical Anglican cathedral and learn about its origin
In the centre of Stone town, there is an old building known as the Anglican Church. This building has a lot of notable stories attached to its existence, beginning from the slave trade to the civilisation and independence of the people of Zanzibar.
Also, there are tour guides who will help you with accounts on the inceptions which is quite a different way to learn more about Zanzibar.
Plan Your Honeymoon
Zanzibar is one of most popular place for honeymoon and couple getaway. You can add this place to your list.
Visit local restaurants
Stone town is very popular with spice which is particularly included in meals sold at the restaurants. Thus, there are lots of roadside eateries where you can sit to eat delicious locally made meals in Zanzibar. You can opt for local seafood, such as fried shrimps, prawns, fish, spicy meals and soups, the traditional chappati snack, rice, shawarma, coconut water, pizza and many more.
Tour the main gift stores
Also, at the traditional stores, you can purchase historic items that will remind you of an African experience. Traditional and Arabic wear is sold at the shops where you can get caps, scarves, Arabian wear, hijabs, clothing accessories and many more. In addition, you can buy souvenirs, gifts, artworks etc.
Explore the Zanzibar coffee house
Zanzibar is also unique with coffee plants and there is a distinct coffee house in Stone town. Here, you can tour the interior of the structure and as well buy a cup of coffee which is quite affordable.
Likewise, a trip to the coffee house also gives you a brief knowledge of the culture of Zanzibar with the amazing furniture and frameworks in the building.
Visit the major spice shops and farms in Stone town
Zanzibar is popular for growing various herbs and spices such as cinnamon, pepper, ginger, lemon grass, iodine, cocoa, nutmeg, clove, ginger and turmeric, hibiscus and black pepper. There are so many adventurous things to do in this city.
In addition, there are large spice farms in the city, like the Tawangiwi spice farm where you can visit to see a substantial portion of spices grown and also buy and taste spice meals.
View the amazing Zanzibar sunrise and sunset
From almost every spot in Stone town, it is very easy to capture the wonderful sight of the sunrise and sunset. However, it is most visible from the rooftop of the Palace Hotel in Stone Town. Once you get this, you can take a picture or gaze in awe of the incredible round ball that sits firmly in the skies. Zanzibar has one of the best resorts in Tanzania.
Explore Prison Island in Zanzibar on a boat tour
For less than a hundred dollars, you can tour archaic Prison Island in Stone town. The island which is just one of the many isles in Zanzibar is a public spot where diverse cultural activities take place.
Likewise, this is another chance to learn about how the Prison islands were formed and the old events that took place there. The island also shelters huge tortoises that have been living for centuries, you can take pictures of the creatures and also learn about their adaptations.
Therefore on Prison island, you get to see and explore the regions, enjoy local meals, snorkel, dive and cruise in boats which are also accessible, and then you will meet the indigenous people of Zanzibar who are hospitable.
Visit the mosques and Indian shrines in Stone Town
In Zanzibar, Islam is one of the most dominant beliefs, therefore there are religious centres like the mosque and other prayer grounds in Stone Town. Just a quick stop at the major buildings and also the traditional Indian temple, one that blends the significant culture of India with Africa.
See the first hospital in Stone Town- the Old Dispensary
The Old Dispensary is an interesting ancient sight that was the first medical centre in Stone town. Although it is so archaic now, you can utilise the chance to embrace the age-old settings of the city better.
Visit the Old Fort in Stone Town
As an old site, the Old Fort has blended cultural diversities and entertainment to continually attract tourists. Therefore a great place for you to watch live performances, participate in major festivals, eat traditional meals and also purchase common handcrafted items and artworks, is the Old Fort in Zanzibar.
Tourist attractions in Stone Town
Beyond the islands which are also part of the interests in Zanzibar, you can tour the following locations in Stone town;
- Prison Island
- Anglican Cathedral
- Forodhani market
- The Old Fort
- The Palace Museum
- The Old Dispensary
- Freddie Mercury Gallery
- Nakupenda reserve
- Darajani market
- Tawangiwi Spice farms
- Hammami Persian Baths
Major Hotels in Stone Town
For your convenience, you can check out any of these hotels with the best facilities and hospitality reviews in Stone Town;
- Park Hyatt resort
- Double Tree hotel
- Zanzibar Palace Hotel
- Tembo House Hotel
- Zanzibar Coffee House
- Mizingani Seafront Hotel
- Zanzibar Serena Hotel
- The Seyyida Hotel & Spa
It would be advisable to stay in regions close to attractions because the regions around Stone Town are so little and you can only access them on foot. Although, there are limited bicycles, trucks and taxis that convey goods and passengers.
Travel tips for touring Stone Town, Zanzibar
Stone town is incredibly old, therefore you need to be well prepared to explore the city as much as you would love to. Not to worry, these few tips would help you find your way better;
Visit free places first
There are a lot of places you can tour without having to pay, except if you want to buy items. Places such as the Old Dispensary, markets, coffee shops and many more are open to tourists to visit every day.
Get ready to walk along narrow streets
Stone Town has a lot of bends in every corner with houses built so closely. This gives little space for movement, hence you would have to trek to get to major roads even if you will eventually board a bus or taxi.
Lodge in the comfortable hotels around Stone Town
Since you cannot tour the whole of Zanzibar in a day, it is best if you reserve a hotel online where you can relax. However, it should be close to major sights in the city, thus the Zanzibar Palace Hotel and Park Hyatt are great fits.
Cut down on spice consumption
As much as spices are fresh and healthy, they could be a new one for you. Therefore, you do not have to try every street food, except if you are familiar with them or you are sure that you do not have allergic reactions.
Negotiate with traders as much as possible
Though you are new to Zanzibar, a lot of people have mentioned that when you want to buy items, after converting the local currency to dollars or pounds, certain items can still be adjusted. You do not want to overspend or become stranded with too much buying, therefore it is either you view and pass or up-skill your negotiation game a bit.
Employ the service of a guide or use maps around the city
You do not want to miss your way around Stone Town’s narrow avenues, therefore it is either you book a tour guide ahead of your trip or pay a local to get you around. This way, you will get the best and most exciting experience out of your excursion.
Tanzania has grown to becoming one of the favorite tourist attractions in Africa. You should add this colonial town to the bucket list of places to visit in Tanzania.