Strolling Through Stone Town
Stone Town. An enchanting jumble of cobbled alleyways that you can easily lose your heart and mind in. Days can be spent wandering aimlessly through this cities labyrinth but eventually you are bound to end up on Creek Rd or the magnificent seafront.
Each corner will surprise you with something completely unique, whether it is a school full of children chanting verses from the Quran, a beautiful old mansion with overhanging verandas, or a coffee vendor with his long-spouted pot fastened over coals.
As you lose yourself in this city you will witness the island’s rich cultural melange come to life: Arabic-style houses with their recessed inner courtyards rub shoulders with Indian-influenced buildings boasting ornate balconies and latticework, and bustling oriental bazaars alternate with street-side vending stalls.
Stone Town is the soul of Zanzibar.
Stone Town is a city of prominent historical and artistic importance in East Africa. The town was named for the coral stone buildings that were built there largely during the 19th century, on the site of a very old fishing village. There are over 16,000 people in the town today, and over 1,700 recorded buildings.
Life in this city is lived very much as it was in the past. The many mosques’ muezzin calls can be heard echoing above the narrow streets five times daily.
I woke up to the sound of prayer and realised that I was no longer in a tent. Exploring this magical city was going to be an absolute treat. I had been in Tanzania for almost 2 weeks now but Zanzibar is something completely divergent to the mainland of the country…
We started the day with a walking tour of the city, desperately trying to keep up with our guide through the hectic alleyways. I found the most interesting sight to be the Old Slave Market – nowadays, The Anglican cathedral.
Although nothing remains of the slave market today, other than some holding cells under St Monica’s Hostel next door, the site remains a sobering reminder of the not so distant past. The city seems so peaceful that it was difficult to imagine the city was once the centre of the east Africa Slave Market. In fact Stone Town was one of the world’s last open slave markets, presided over by Arab traders until it was shut down by the British in 1873.
Below St Monica’s guesthouse beside the cathedral, dozens of slaves, and women and children, were once imprisoned for days in crowded cellars with little air and no food or toilets. Even after two minutes down there, under the low roof, the atmosphere seemed poisonously oppressive.
Our guide described to us how the slaves were led outside and lined up in order of size. They were tied to a tree and whipped with a stinging branch to test their mettle. Those who did not cry or faint fetched a higher price at market. Africa has its share of cruelty and suffering, but it is impossible for such stories bite our conscience.
Anything your heart could desire (to a island market extend) was on offer. Beautiful fabrics and clothing, fresh fruit, local spices and freshly slaughtered meat and fish were all available. The crowded market alleys were packed full of locals and tourists, weaving their way through the streets narrowly avoiding the bikes, cars and carts: adding a whole new meaning to ‘shop ’til you drop’.
I must admit, walking through the fish and meat market reinforced the whole ‘vegan’ thing…
We ended our tour at the old fort and were given time to explore more of the city on our own. The fact that I found my way back to the hotel is a complete stroke of luck…
Stone Town is a magical maze that collaborates the cultures of Africa, the Arab region, India, and Europe over more than a millennium. You may lose yourself in the jumble of streets but between the markets and the mosques you will definitely find a love for the city and Zanzibar.