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.
Stone Town was recently and deservedly declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. More information can be found at the UNESCO website.
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.