Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar archipelago is home to the capital Stone Town. The economy of this island was made prosperous by the Omani Arabs with the cultivation of cloves and the trade in slaves and ivory. Many historical buildings can be admired in the historic centre of the capital: the Arab Fort, the People’s Palace with its museum on the history of the sultanate and many others.
Stone Town: Zanzibar’s capital of history and culture
But Stone Town is also famous for its magnificently inlaid gateways, symbolising the opulence of their owners. The classic shape of Zanzibari gateways is rectangular, with doors sprinkled with brass studs and the jambs adorned with inlays. One can find wavy lines representing the sea, fish, chains as a symbol of protection or the date palm as a symbol of abundance. Sometimes the portal is surmounted by an arched panel where it was possible to write the owner’s name or some verses from the Koran.
Must do activities in Zanzibar
When visiting Stone Town, history is in the air: the portals are symbolic of all the personal stories that have passed through the streets and alleys of this beautiful city. Then there are the spices, important for export, and Taarab music, a mixture of Arabic music with Swahili lyrics. In short, this island not only has dream beaches and diving to offer, but also a lot of culture, a lot of history and a lot of art. So as not to forget the dark days of slavery, next to the Anglican cathedral Church of Christ and adjacent to the site of the slave market, there is a monument dedicated to the victims of trafficking.
Spice tours are organised by all the resorts on the island, along with other land or sea excursions such as swimming with dolphins, seeing the giant turtles on Prison Island or snorkelling along the reef. The island is also home to the Jozani Forest, a fantastic tropical forest of almost 2,500 hectares where the vegetation that originally covered the entire island remains.
The magic of Taarab uniting the cultures of Zanzibar
Taarab is a type of music of Arabic origin that spread last century in Zanzibar by the then sultan. It all started when this sultan invited a group of Egyptian musicians to his court, thus giving birth to the most popular musical genre from then on.
From Zanzibar it then moved to the Tanzanian coast and beyond. It is an addictive music that combines instruments from Arabic culture such as the qanun and oud with violins, guitars, accordions and different types of percussion. The word Taarab means ‘to shake’ and this brings to mind dance, a ubiquitous element in Tanzania and throughout Africa. How does it work? The soloist starts his or her song while the chorus follows during the refrain.
The most unique feature is the mixing of this music of distant origins with very poetic Swahili-language texts about love and local life. The concerts held in Zanzibar are very social events.