The House of Wonders, know in Arabic as Beit-al-Ajaib, is located on Mizingani road, facing Forodhani Gardens on Stone Town's sea front.
House of Wonders front view The second Sultan of Zanzibar, Barghash bin Said, had the House of Wonders built as a ceremonial palace and official reception hall in 1883. It was one of six palaces built for the Sultan during this period. The building was erected as a celebration of modernity; it was the first place to have electricity on the Island, and was also home to the first elevator in East Africa. Indeed, even today the House of Wonders stands as the tallest building in central Stone Town.
During the 19th century, wild animals were kept in cages at the front of the building for display, and the main door is said to have been made so wide as to ride an elephant through. The building is clearly one of majestic quality, and its design is centred upon grandeur and lavishness.
In 1911 the House of Wonders was converted into government offices, and acted as the main base for the British authorities. After the revolution of 1964, the new ruling Afro-ShiraS Party converted the building into a school, and later a museum.
House of Wonders verandas The architecture of the palace reflected the Sultan's wealth, luxurious lifestyle and role on the Island. The building has wide external verandas on all sides held up by cast iron columns, which support uniquely high ceilings and compliment the vastness of the structure. Striking features of the palace are the marble floors, a clear display of wealth, and large, decorative doors which are inscribed with phrases from the Quran.
The design also includes a large covered courtyard in the centre of the building, surrounded by open galleries. A new clock tower was added in 1897, and was integrated into the face of the building to replace the lighthouse which had stood their originally. Building materials included coral rag, limestone and mangrove shoots
Interestingly, the House of Wonders is connected to the Palace Museum, which used to house the Sultan's family, though secret passages about street level called 'wikios'. This served as both a convenience to the Sultan and as a safety feature. It is said that the Sultan used these passages to flee the island during the Anglo-Zanzibar War in 1896, officially recorded as the shortest war in history; it lasted roughly 40 minutes.
Wikios in Stone Town Today
At present, the House of Wonders stands as a Museum of History and Culture of Zanzibar and the Swahili Coast. Its heritage value remains both historic and culture, and the building is of key importance in attracting tourists and acting as a major asset to the small island.
The museum has been famous for the large mtepe (traditional swahili boat) exhibit which held central position in the House of Wonder's inner courtyard. This boat was reconstructed in the 1990s in life-size form, at a length of 17 meters. The mtepe is especially unique because it is sewn and not nailed together. There are many legends about why the boat was sewn, with some locals saying that there used to be a reluctance to use iron nails on the boats in case they were magnetically attracted to the poles. However, it is likely that this simply proved the most efficient and practical method at the time.
House of Wonders reconstruction House of Wonders structural damage Despite its magnificent design and significance in Zanzibari history, the House of Wonders has recently been in a desperate state. In December 2012 a section of the House of Wonders collapsed, due to neglect and material decay. It is still not yet open to the public and is currently undergoing reconstruction. Structural instability is a key, specific threat to this building.
Palace Museum view from sea front The Palace Museum, also known as the Sultan's Palace or 'Beit al-Saheh', also stands facing the sea front on Mizingani Road. It is one of the oldest buildings in Zanzibar, having been constructed in 1828, 55 years before the House of Wonders.
Originally, the building was a residence for the Sultan's family, a family home as opposed to the House of Wonders which was a formal, ceremonial palace. This purpose remained until the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution, when it was renamed the 'People's Palace' and used as offices by the new Revolutionary Council. In 1994 it was again renamed to Palace Museum and was converted into a formal museum dedicated to Zanzibar's historic royalty.
The Palace Museum is very significant architecturally, as it epitomises Zanzibar's cosmopolitan history; it is a blend of European, Arabic and Indian architecture.
- The building stand 3 stories high, and the walls are topped with merlons, typical of medieval architecture, giving the palace a fort-like appearance.
- Arches are a typical Arabic feature of the palace.
- There is an external veranda and many balconies leading out from the wide, decorative windows.
Arches in front entrance
Zanzibari Door - Inside remains an impressive spiralled staircase
- The main entrance is framed with a large decorative Zanzibari door.
The physical appearance of the palace today has been mush reduced, although its structural condition remains largely intact. The walls have suffered weathering and inside walls have started to erode. Recently one of the former bedrooms has had to be renovated due to some structural damage and the stairway has received maintenance.
Palace Museum front courtyard However, there have been significant efforts to restore and keep the palace as a functioning museum. Nowadays the museum is home to many items of historic furniture, very old chandeliers, and decorative ebony carvings.
One floor of the museum is currently dedicated to Princess Salme, better known as Emily Route, a Zanzibari Princess who fled to Europe with her German husband and converted to Christianity. This display has attracted many tourists and aroused much historic interest.
The Palace Museum today is an important heritage site in Stone Town not only for historic reasons, but also architecturally and culturally. In addition, it brings aesthetic appeal to the town's sea front.
The Old Fort stands on Stone Town's sea front, Mizingani Road, adjacent to the House of Wonders. It claims a unique place in Zanzibar's history as the old building recorded, being built in 1652.
Old Fort front entrance
The Old Fort assumes a square plot on the sea front, with tall brown walls and fortified towers on each corner. The walls enclose an inner courtyard divided into two sections. One sect contains an open-air amphitheatre with a restaurant, tourist information desk and small curio shops. The other section also has similar kinds of shops, but is grassed and more spatially open.
The fort was built by the Omanis in the 17th century to defend the Island from a Portuguese invasion, in which they were successful. It was built in the place of an Old Portuguese church, of which remnants can still be found, signalling in the temporary end of European and Christian influence on the island.
Curio shops and ampitheatre
The fort was later used for a range of purposes; as prisons, barracks, and even as a depot for the construction of Zanzibar's railway, which connected Stone Town to the northern village of Bububu in the early 20th century. Nowadays it has been converted into a cultural centre, and a key tourist attraction.
Therefore, the Old Fort has historic heritage value and cultural value today. The amphitheatre is also now used to host concert and events, such as Zanzibar Film Festival and Sauti za Busara (Sounds of Wisdom music festival), giving it recreational and social value as well.
- The amphitheatre is an impressive, character-defining feature.
- The melons on the surrounding walls are in typical Arab style.
The Old Fort's current physical condition is mixed. Inside the structure, the area is well-kept and seems to suffer very few problems expect the odd case of littering. The external walls however appear to be crumbing in places, and have experience weathering and material decay. There is also the problem behind the back wall of the fort with litter; there are large waste heaps laying against the walls. This detracts from the aesthetic quality of the site and could be a problem when the Old Fort hosts large festivals.
Grassy section of Old Fort
Litter behind the Old Fort
Old Customs House
The Old Customs House is located on Mizingani Road, between the Old Dispensary and the Palace Museum.
The building was constructed in 1865 as the home for Sayyida Zam Zam, a daughter of the first Sultan of Zanzibar, and her family. The house belonged to a group of prominent buildings constructed by the Omani rulers, resembling an Arab mansion. In 1896, Hamoud, the grandson of Sultan Said, is said to have been proclaimed Sultan in the building. Following the death of her husband, the Sultan's daughter moved out of the house and left it in the care of her late husband's relatives.
In 1928, the building was occupied by the customs authorities and served as a customs house until 1987, when the authorities were forced to evacuate due to poor maintenance, leaving the building in a reduced state. For 6 years the house served only as a home for squatters.
In 1993 the building was renovated by a combination of donors; UNESCO, the Aga Khan Cultural Trust and the Embassy of Sweden. It is now used by Zanzibar Conservation Centre and Dhow Countries Music Academy.
The building is made of coral stone and lime mortar. It has a typically Arabic, plan façade.
At the turn of the 19th century the double decker balcony was added. This is the house's most impressive feature and consists of 4 irons pillars which support two verandas. At this time there also took place a transition from a flat roof into a pitch roof covered with corrugated iron sheets.
A key character defining feature of this old building is the beautiful Zanzibari door, framed in the main entrance. The door has been decorated in the Arab style, with fish, lotus and anchor chain motifs. It is, as far as we know, the second oldest door in Zanzibar with an inscription date of 1266 AD which is equivalent to 1849 AD.
The building has an uncovered inner courtyard surrounded by 4 tall white walls. On each floor there is a balcony which looks down on this.
Inside central view of Old Customs House Today
Now that the building has undergone extensive and impressive renovation it has been restored to its former glory. It is home to a number of organisations, including Zanzibar Conservation Centre and Zanzibar Stone Town Heritage Site. Its physical condition is one of the best out of the towns heritage sites and is a fully functioning building for offices and tourism.
Old Dispensary front view Old Dispensary
The Old Dispensary, also known as the Ithnashini Dispensary, can be found also on Mizingani road, opposite the Ferry Port on Stone town's sea front.
This building was officially completed in 1894. It was originally built as a hospital by Tharia Topan, a wealthy Ismaili Indian, to celebrate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee but he died in 1891 before its completion. It was thus taken over by Haji Nasser Nirmohammed who completed construction and made the building a dispensary. He also converted the upper floors into an apartment.
After the 1964 revolution it was requisitioned by the government but held little function and fell into disuse and decay. In 1991 the building was acquired and restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and was inaugurated in March 1997 by the President of Zanzibar and Aga Khan himself. It now functions as a tourist attraction and maritime museum.
The physical appearance of the building is extremely impressive. It is a large, white, rectangular structure with a light blue, double decker balcony on the front. The intricate design on the balcony is especially noteworthy.
Stained glass windows The building itself is a symbol of multicultural architecture. It combines:
- Stained glass windows and decoration, clearly an influence of the Indian architect Hasham Patel.
- Traditional Zanzibari main structure and building materials of coral rag and limestone.
Inner courtyard and bridges - European neo-classical influence is evident through the stucco adornments.
-There also exists a covered inner courtyard and carved bridges connecting the floors.
The intricacy of this buildings design, and the fact that it is as unmarked inside as it is outside, make it an important part of Stone Town's heritage.
Today the physical condition of the building is excellent, and much of this can be attributed to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture's work. Comparative to other heritage sites in Stone Town, it is superb.
Its current use is as a tourist attraction and museum, and there is also a shop operating within.
One of the building's main assets is that is clean and well kept, not subject to litter and neglect like so many other historical sites. It is not subject to any specific, structural or otherwise, threats.
The Old Dispensary's main heritage value lies in its architecture, not only in its aesthetics, but also in the fact that it is a synthesis of Indian, Arab, Zanzibari and European influences. It reflects the islands complex and cosmopolitan history, which is important to preserve.
Inner courtyard shop and display
Stone Town's main market or bazaar, informally known as 'Marikiti Kuu' in Swahili, is located on Darajani Road, opposite the central daladala stand.
Front view of Darajani's main entrance
The market was built and designed in 1904 by Bomanjee Maneckjee for Sultan Ali bin Hamud. It is one of the few things that has remained constant in Zanzibar's somewhat turbulent history. It has many times been expanded and restored, but has never changed in function or ownership as so many of these heritage sites have.
One of the most striking things about the market is its enormity. The main building is long and fairly narrow, but the market stalls extend behind and along the both sides of the old structure.
The building itself is naturally one-story, with white painted external walls, red corrugated iron roofing and an arched main entrance. The structure is very open and there many arched window frames which means that inside the markets are lit only by sunlight.
Back view of main Darajani structure
This main building contains the fish market, marked primary by its smell, and fruit and vegetable stalls. The food section does, however, extend much further behind and beyond the building. This sections is covered by orange sheets and tarpaulin to repel the rain and sunlight.
Fruit and vegetable market, behind main building Inside Darajani fish market
The market nowadays is busy and brimming with life and atmosphere. It is always busy with locals buying and selling, as well as a small number of tourists who visit, often with guides.
Considering its age and sheer amount of day-to-day usage, the market is in a fairly good shape. Nevertheless, the walls are crumbling in places, there is a big problem of litter and general wastage, and the roof leaks, which is a problem in the rainy season.
Its heritage value to Stone Town as a market is not especially historic, but instead business-oriented, functional, and cultural.
Forodhani Gardens can be found right on the sea front, on Mizingani road, and acts in many ways as the heart of Stone Town.
Fordhani Gardens view from north side
Ornamental fountain The Gardens were originally laid out to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of HM King George V in 1935. The bandstand ornamental fountain, drinking fountains, shelters and seats were installed to celebrate the Silver Jubilee, one year later in 1936, of Sultan Seyyid Sir Khalifa Bin Harub. Thus, the site is sometimes referred to as the Jubilee Gardens.
However, during the 20th century the gardens were neglected and reduced to a poor state. Thus, in 2009, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture spent approximately $3 million to rehabilitate the site. This organisation restored the walkways and landscape, rehabilitated the seawall facing the park and upgraded the infrastructure and sewerage drainage system. These extensive works took the Trust 18 months and the transformation was enormous.
Bandstand shelter The gardens today are well-kept and of crucial aesthetic value to Stone Town. There now exists a restored, ornate fountain, a central dome-like structure providing shade, and paved walkways.
The site is in constant use, by day functioning as a recreational ground and popular meeting spot, and by night transforming into a night market which sells local seafood and Zanzibari cuisine.
The heritage value of Forodhani Gardens lies its social and recreational function, and its aesthetic appeal to the seafront.
Entrance to Victoria Gardens Victoria Gardens are located at the Southern end of Stone Town, opposite the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital, on Kaunda road. These gardens are comparatively much smaller that Forodhani, and are used more by locals than tourists.
The gardens were first installed by Sultan Bagharsh for use by his harem. Between 1873 -87, Sir John Kirk, who was at the time the British Consul of Zanzibar, added many exotic plants to the site. The gardens were handed over to the people by Sultan Hamud on Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1899 and renamed in her honour. They have since been open for public use and enjoyment.
Centre of Victoria Gardens There exists a building in the centre of the gardens, named Victoria's Hall, which was used as a Chamber of the Legislative Council between 1926 and 1964. Following the revolution that year, the building fell in to disrepair. It was renovated in 1996 with help from the German government and Victoria Hall now functions as offices for the Zanzibar Sewerage and Sanitation Project.
The current condition of the gardens is dwindling. There are now very few actual plants there, being primarily a grassy area. The natural stone-lined paths have been moved and destroyed in certain areas, and there is a distinct problem with litter.
Shaded section of the Gardens Nonetheless, despite the fairly plain appearance, the gardens are still an attractive, green area and are used by local Zanzibari people. Its value as a heritage site is thus social/recreational and also aesthetic.
The Hamamni Baths are located in the Hamamni area of Stone Town, very central and amidst the narrow streets. The word Hamamni means "place of the baths", hence it is now the name of the neighbourhood.
Raised sign outside the Hamamni Baths
The baths were built between 1870 -1888 for Sultan Barghash bin Said. He intended the baths to be open for public use, but with an entrance fee which stood at 10 shillings when it was first opened. These baths were maintained only until 1920, and afterwards were closed down.
In 1937 there were proposals drafted for its renovation and reopening but this never went ahead. These proposals were requested by the Chief Secretary but rejected because they were too costly and the task too great.
The entrance to the baths is fairly unremarkable and easily missed. The doorway is small and tucked away, with only a small plaque above signalling that a bath exists there.
The baths are often referred to as the Persian Baths, because they were designed by a Persian architect, Haji Gulamhussein.
The Persian architectural influence on the building can be primarily through the arches at the top of the main outside wall off the baths.
The building has very few windows, and the ones that do exist are small and rectangular
Main entrance to baths
Red clay has been used in the architecture which, due to rain and weathering, has run down the sides of the externals walls.
Inside the building, there are many rooms. There were both hot and cold bath rooms, a steam room, a hexagonal pool and fountain, toilets, shaving areas and a restaurant. The hot water used to come from underground aqueducts.
Having not functioned for over 90 years, the building has decayed and crumbled in places. Plants have self-seeded and have begun to grown from parts of the walls as well. Although the building is a world heritage site, its appearance is fairly shabby and run-down.
Thus, the heritage value of the Hamamni Baths is cultural and historic, and has the potential to the aesthetic is it were restored.
Merlons and red clay design at top of walls
Tippu Tip's House
Tippu Tip's House is located in Suicide Alley in Shangani ward. It lies in the narrow streets on the Southern side of Stone Town. His tomb can be found very nearby.
This building was the house of a powerful Arab merchant and slave-trader, Hamed bin Mohammed al Marjebi (Tippu Tip), who lived between 1837 - 1905. There are many local stories as to why he acquire the nickname Tippu Tip, some saying it was because he had a twitch in his eye, others saying it was due to the sound his gun made.
After the revolution of 1964, it was converted into flats and private residences. Today, however, the house is in a terrible state of disrepair, and is no longer a functioning residence or tourist attraction. It is occupied by squatters and is not open to visitors.
Tippu Tip's Tomb was laid close to his house when he died in 1905.
The building is fairly plain in appearance and in architecture, and the only real indication that this was once a wealthy man's house is the large, wooden, carved doorway.
It is constructed from traditional Zanzibari building materials: coral rag and limestone. Its roofing is made from corrugated iron.
Doorway of house
Nowadays both the building and the tomb are in a terrible state. Tippu Tip's house is suffering from crumbling walls, a collapsing staircase, litter and severe structural problems cause the flooring to have fallen away on the upper floors.
Collapsing staircase, too dangerous for use Crumbling wall of the house
The house, now inhabited by squatters, is actually very dangerous. The staircase, which used to be an ornate, character-defining element of the house, is now physically slanted and missing many steps and boards. The entire structure is wobbly at best, unsafe at worst.
The tomb did undergo restoration by Zanzibar Stone Town Heritage society in 2005 but problems, especially littering, have endured. It is currently situated on a waste site, and the tomb itself is surrounded with overgrown vegetation and one side has been partially buried. Litter here is an enormous problem, as discarded waste is thrown over the tomb and has damaged the site immeasurably.
Tippu Tip's Tomb during 2005 restoration
Aside from the poor condition of Tippu Tip's house and tomb, the heritage value of these sites remain historic and important.
Peace Memorial Museum
The Peace Memorial Museum is located in the Southern end of Stone Town, adjacent to Victoria Gardens.
Side view of Peace Memorial Museum
This museum, opened in 1925, was designed by a British architect, JH Sinclair. He also designed several other building around Zanzibar, including the High Courts.
The museum apparently used to be home to giant tortoises, which have now been transferred to Prison Island, and contained many exhibits, which have now been transferred to the House of Wonders following incidents of theft in 1999. Thus, the Peace Memorial Museum functions more nowadays as a library, with a few exhibits including medical tools used by David Livingstone.
- The museum has distinctive domes, giving it a mosque-like appearance.
- It has tall arches on all surrounding balconies.
- Stained glass windows and decorations also give it the appearance of a religious building.
- Long, narrow, decorative arabesque windows.
- Large Zanzibari door.
Zanzibari door, main entrance - Installation of gardens surrounding the building.
- Arabesque plain white walls.
Due to frequent and extensive maintenance, the Peace Memorial Museum is currently in excellent physical condition. Apart from the problem of theft of museum displays, it suffers no specific threats as a building or heritage site. Its value as a heritage site of Stone Town in primarily historic, also it also brings aesthetic benefits to a less developed area of the town.
The Anglican Church is located on the site of the former slave markets, on the eastern side of town behind Darajani Market. It is near to Creek Road Junction and Mkunazini Road.
Front view of Cathedral
The Church underwent construction in 1873, when the slave market was closed down, and completed in 1880.
It stands exactly on the site of the former slave market, and was intended to celebrate the end of slavery. Following David Livingstone's called to spread Christianity and end slavery in the 1860s, the Universities Mission in Central Africa settled in Zanzibar in 1864. The church bought up the site and began construction immediate upon the slave market's end, binding the Christian mission and the end of slavery together. Indeed, the alter is said to stand directly upon the site of the main whipping post.
The Church's construction is attributed to Bishop Edward Steere, who was Bishop of Zanzibar form 1874 - 1882. He notoriously trained local people with skills such as masonry, and the construction involved the whole community. Edward Steere was buried behind the alter of this Cathedral upon his death in 1882.
- The famous monument of the slave pit lies next to the building.
- Unique concrete roof shaped in an unusual barrel vault.
- Tall clock tower, although purposefully shorter than the House of Wonders as a sign on respect.
Slave pit monument - Beautiful stain glass windows, one specifically dedicated to David Livingstone.
- Merlon decorated column shaped section.
- Grand keyhole doorway and entrance.
- The overall structure mixes gothic and Islamic detail.
Decorative window Cylandrical section of Church
The current condition of the building is impressive giving its age. The only problem observable was the roof which had cracked and is now undergoing restoration.
The Anglican Cathedral is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Stone Town. Its heritage value is overtly historic, but also religious/spiritual.
St Josephs Catholic Church
The Catholic Church is found in the Banghani area, just off Kenyatta Road in the heart of Stone Town.
The church was built by French missionaries between 1893 -1898. The design was based on Marseille Cathedral.
Still today the church holds regular masses, and is a fully functioning place of worship as well as historical site.
Front view of Church
- The most important and character-defining feature of the Catholic Church is the two distinctive spires, seen clearly from sea.
- Stain glass windows, imported from France.
- Murals on the inside of the walls; clear French influence.
- The interior walls are painted with Old Testament scenes, many of which are deteriorating and have been poorly restored.
- Broad, impressive doorway with white, biblical statues.
Two distinctive spires of the Church Main entrance to Church
Damaged back window of church - minor issue The condition of the building has remained fairly well intact. The external walls have suffered some weathering and discolouring, and a number of windows also have been broken at the back. However, the church remains reasonably well-kept and functioning.
It's heritage value to Stone Town is religious, historic and aesthetic.
Aga Khan Mosque
This mosque is located in the centre of Stone Town, near the Kiponda area. The building is also referred to as the Aga Khan Jamat Khanna Mosque. It is a worship place for Ismaili Muslims.
Front view of Mosque The building is large and white, with a flat roof and many windows. There is a balcony imbedded into the design above the main door way, which frames a magnificent Zanzibari Door. Directly outside the building the is also a large airy courtyard.
The mosque combines gothic and Islamic architecture, whilst also exuding a plain, arabesque façade.
Main entrance and doorway
Decorative windows and balcony directly above doorway
The Mosque today is in excellent condition and is clearly very well kept. Compared to many of the mosques in Stone Town, it has one of the best physical conditions.
Its heritage value to the town is religious and spiritual, but also aesthetic as the building is extremely impressive.
The mosque is located in the Malindi area of Stone Town, on the north side of town opposite the port.
Front view of Mosque History
This mosque is one of the oldest in Zanzibar, built in 1841. It was built by the Sunni Muslims, and have been extended several times since, once in 1841 and then again by Sultan Seyyid Ali bin Said in 1890.
- Built in typical arabesque style, with white walls and merlons.
- Stained glass windows.
- Beautiful, wooden, inscribed doorways.
Doorway to Mosque - The most character defining element of this mosque is its minaret. It is unique in the fact the it is cone shaped and starts not form the ground, but from a raised, square platform. This minaret is just one of three is this style in East Africa. Unfortunately the minaret can only be seen from specific viewing points in the town, and of course from the sea.
Today the mosque is well kept and in excellent condition. It is a fully functioning place of worship and, aside from some minor damage to one of the back walls, it is not threatened by and significant problems.
Its heritage value is religious, spiritual and aesthetic.