Rich History

Explore Rich History

Zanzibar houses people from all over, and diversity makes it a unique travel destination.  The distinct charm presents a cross-cultural exchange, and it is more charming due to the jumble of beliefs, cultures, and languages. The cultural convergence is apparent in the diversity of its cuisine, in the Swahili language polyglot nature, and in the architectural styles in Stone Town that exist side by side.

The Mystical History of Zanzibar

Zanzibar’s beach destinations have a rich history, with settlements dating back to the 13th and 14thcenturies on Pemba and Unguja.  For more than 20,000 years, the history of Zanzibar was a major trade port, a fascinating melting point as a colonial site for architectural styles and cultures.

The Portuguese ruled the island from 1503 to 1698 until the Omani Arabs expelled them following a request from local rulers. With the fall of the Portuguese empire, the trade of spices, ivory, and slaves flourished. The Omani Arab influence is so strong and apparent in all aspects of life today in the architecture, culture, religion, and cuisine. The historical sites, the former slave market and the Palace of Wonders are a testament to the history of this island.

Independence came in 1963 under the British Commonwealth administration.  There were three colonial rules, which brought trade, and so there is a distinct local culture. You can see Arabic and colonial architecture in the same street, while Middle Eastern, native African, Caucasian, and Indian children play together on the streets.

The history and a visit to Zanzibar, especially Stone Town, is time travel. You get to wander the network of laneways, alleys, where you are literally surrounded by history.

Sultan Majid_bin Said Al Busaid (1834-1870)

The Oman Arabs, Persians, and Early Settlers

Inhabited for more than 20,000 years, the early arrivals to this island were the waHadimu and Tumbatus, who, according to studies, came from the African Great Lakes. Later, there were Persians (Shirazis), Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula, Indians, and many other ethnic groups.

For many centuries, Zanzibar was ruled by outsiders–in the 7th century BC, the Sheba of Yemen, Semitic civilization, and successively by the Persians, Portuguese, Arabs, and the British.  The strategically located Indian Ocean island  became the main port to trade ivory, gold, ebony, silks, frankincense, spices, turtle shells, slaves, and weapons. Consequently, Zanzibar played a central role in the development of a new culture and civilization – a Swahili culture.

The Persians brought their culture and thoughts and built the Zoroastrian fire temples. The Portuguese replaced the Persians, and when the Zanzibari Africans could not tolerate the Portuguese, they invited the Sultan of Oman to help and overthrew the Portuguese in 1698.

Seyyid Said bin Sultan, the founder of today’s Omani dynasty, transferred his capital from Muscat, Oman to Zanzibar in 1840. Since then, the island has become an integral part of the vast Omani Empire on the East African coast.  The energetic Sultan, who frequently moved back and forth to Muscat, introduced cloves on the island and promoted the agricultural sector, which is still famous for spices. The Arab-African culture gave rise to Kiswahili, the main language. The Omani sultans abandoned Muscat and settled in Zanzibar.

 Early Settlement

Zanzibar’s early settlement stretches back to the first millennium when the Bantu speakers ventured to this archipelago. The Greek merchant and sailors refer to the island as Menouthias, and historians believe it as Zanzibar. Persian Shirazi traders from the 8th century made their way and established settlements on Pemba and Unguja. Between the 12th and 15th centuries, trade with the Arabian peninsula and Arabian Gulf flourished.

The archeological findings of Ras Mkumbuu Friday mosque suggest that Islam was introduced in Zanzibar as early as the 10th century AD.

Zanzibar became a powerful trading hub, trading gold, slaves, ivory, and wood to Arabia and Asia and importing textiles, utensils, and spices. With increasing trade, the spread of Islam, and the Arabic and Indian cultures, resulted in a  unique architectural style witnessed even today in the Stone Town.

In 1890, Zanzibar became a British protectorate following the Heligoland Treaty with Germany.

 Prison Island

Changuu Island, commonly known as Prison Island (not prisoners island), is a boat trip from Zanzibar. The 800 by 230m island offers a glimpse into the islands’ dark past that was functional to detain slaves. After the abolition of slavery, it served as a place to quarantine for people with yellow fever.

Today, the island is a giant tortoise nature reserve, and visitors can see the prison ruins. Visit prison Island, taking a boat ride of 30-minute and explore the island. The pristine coastline features plentiful marine life. The island is now a stunning natural beauty with lush surroundings. There is a wide range of fun activities, such as kite surfing, fishing, swimming, dhow sailing, and more.

Kizimbani

Kizimbani is a Zanzibar Urban/West Region settlement in Unguja, the main island, Tanzania. It is in the interior of the island featuring the old Persian public baths remnants.