The African continent – a place that I have a special love for – maybe as it is the root of mankind ? Whenever I go to Africa you have the feeling that you go back to the origin of everything . Life started here for humans and it is still the same purity and nature that you feel over here – you feel free from all your burden that usual civilization puts on you – no crowds , no noise , no huge buildings and cities , no stress, no pressure…
It is also because of the gorgeous natural wonders that this continent is covering – the wonderful great Nile River , the magnificent Victoria Falls , the Okavango Delta River , the beautiful Table Mountains , the deserts of Namibia , the wildlife out there – I love all of them and their appearance and energy is deeply engraved into my heart.
Maybe it is because there are so many uncovered things in Africa which makes it still so mysterious… . I love the shadow of the African trees , the sounds of the animals in the bush and the sound of the harsh waves at its coastlines .
I just truly adore it .
I also love the eyes of the people who are still so naïve , looking at you , smiling at you and if you are able to share something with them, then they are so grateful and happy , especially the kids so that they are dancing, turning somersaults and making flip flaps and laughing – it is simply touching and so human.
My heart is smiling when I am in Africa though it also bears sadness to be there due to life conditions and history.
I also love the sand roads – natural roads that you drive here- best is with a jeep – breathing the salty air, the sun and standing under the wonderful rain and getting wet .
This time we are flying to Tanzania to explore the Island of Zanzibar .
It is a unique place – not comparable with any other place in the world that I have visited so far .
While we are on Zanzibar Island we try to see and to explore as much as we can whether it is the different coastlines of the island or some natural or historical locations , the small cities , the people – everything .
In this blog I would like to tell a little bit about the history of Zanzibar , Stone Town and Prison Island .
Zanzibar today is a semi- autonomous region belonging to Tanzania and being located very close , approx. 50 km , to the mainland of Tanzania . The name of todays “Tanzania” is the fusion of “Tanganyika” ( the mainland ) and “Zanzibar” which results into the name of “Tanzania”.
It is a word of the Swahili language ( East African Coastline ) and has its roots in the arabic language ( zincibar ) and means the coastline of the black skinned people referring to the inhabitants of the islands.
Zanzibar itself is located in the Indian Ocean and is about 85 km long and 39 km wide – the main island is Unguya but there are also some other islands around which belong to the archipelago of Zanzibar such as Pemba Island .
The islands are fringed with beautiful long and very broad , white sand beaches and coral reefs where the tide is affecting the coastlines .
The capital city is Zanzibar City with its historical city center Stone Town which is today a UNESCO World Heritage . It was since thousands of years a crossroad between the African continent , the Middle East and Asia – a melting pot where people and cultures met for trade .
It is one of our first days on the island – it is cloudy and raining and our goal is to explore Stone Town and its near surrounding .
We leave our hotel which is at the east coast at Pongwe and drive to Stone Town which is exactly at the other side of the island at the west coast .
We arrive at Stone Town and leave our car. It is raining, a kind of monsoon rain , and the best clothing that you can have here for this weather is to have your swim short or swimsuit and a T-shirt and some flip flops as you are getting wet but since it is warm you do not freeze. Your feet are getting wet and maybe a little muddy – so you need flip flops that you can wash and dry afterwards easily.
We enter the city at the local Darajani Food Market – here is the fish market , the vegetable and fruit market and also the spice market – though it is raining it is very crowded .
We pass by the fish market as it is a little bit smelly over here . Most of the fish is sold already as it is nearly lunchtime.
In the vegetable and fruit market we see baskets full of lovely yellow and red bananas , pineapples nicely hanging around.
At the spice market there are baskets full of nuts and all kind of spices brought from the spice gardens allover the island .
We move forward as the rain is getting really strong . First we pass a kind of security check before we are allowed to enter the historical city center. Then we arrive at the Old Slave Market and the Anglican Church .
At this place we face the part of the dark history of the island since Zanzibar was one of the main slave markets in the region .
People were gathered from allover Africa , enchained, hold in very small cellars , low ,dirty, dark , humid and stuffed in inhuman conditions to be sold to local plantations or were transported to other countries or even continents to work over there .
Usually the slave trade was going hand in hand with the ivory trade – people who were dealing the ivory were also dealing with the slaves , especially to the Arabian countries .
Being at these locations and just trying to imagine what all happened here makes you feel very shuddered. Here where the Christ Church – as it is called today – stands was the former trade market for slaves and the church was built in memory of those people and their destiny. The intention to build the church was to celebrate the end of slavery in Zanzibar . Where the altar stands today it is said that is was the main whipping post in the slave market .
Edward Steere was the founder of this building and he was buried later in the monument in 1882.
On his grave you see the Swahili inscriptions and at the walls of the altar you see the prophets from the religions gathered here at this location . Christ Church is also one of the main and most famous landmarks of the Eastern African region .
It is a sad place and we are leaving loaded with our thoughts on the past and the people who suffered here.
It is still silently raining and we just move through the narrow streets with the little stores , the nice little hotels – it is a mingling world , vivid , colorful and peaceful . What is really outstanding and impressive are the beautiful carved wooden doors of Zanzibar – one nicer then the other .
These doors are called “Zanzibar doors ” and there are about 800 of those in Zanzibar .The elder doors were made out of Burma teak while the wood was transported a long way from Burma to be carved here by Indian artists . In later years the African teak was used.
There are 3 different types of wooden doors :
There are the Gujarati doors with square shutters .These were doors for a strong protection especially for people who were trading with gold in the past .This is why these doors are mostly in the gold trading districts of Zanzibar .
Secondly there are the Punjabi doors with Indian origin. These are the ones with the arched top of the frame and with heavy brass studs which are installed at some panels of the door.
These brass knobs were used as a protection against the attacks of war elephants in India but in Zanzibar those knobs had no function but had more a decorative purpose but the custom was continued in Zanzibar as the doors were looking very beautiful that way .
Third group of doors were the Arabic doors which always have a rectangular shape and mostly have some phrases out of the Quran written on top of it .
The wooden doors of Zanzibar generally were showing the social status of the house owners – the more wealthy the owner was the more magnificent and large was the door of his house .
These beautiful wooden doors gave its unique character to the ancient city of Stone Town and they are also one of the reasons why Zanzibar became a Unesco World Heritage site .
We pass by the Livingstone House , the Old Dispensary of Zanzibar , the Guilani Bridge , pass by many beautiful little hotels. There are also many galleries selling paintings and fabrics from the region.
As the rain is getting strong we just stop at one of the nice hotels – it has a beautiful inner garden with a little pool – it reminds me a little bit of the architecture in Morocco .
It is cute and cosy here and as it is raining it is just wonderful to sit here and watch the rain drops falling and drinking a local cup of tea or coffee.
A little further we arrive at a place where my heart is going to beat loudly and fast – it is the Freddie Mercury House. I adore this artist and his music so much – especially after having seen the film this year . What a great voice , singer and person – may he rest in peace …
Unfortunately it is a pity that there is not too much to see other then the entrance of the house and some pictures – is it maybe because Freddy was a gay person and the local society does not accept homosexuality ?
We stroll down the streets while the rain is still falling . It gives the city a special atmosphere . We arrive at the Old Fort of Zanzibar ( Ngome Kongwe ) and walk through its inner garden .
There is a little market for people who want to do some shopping – african masks ,little accessories, paintings and wooden carvings.
Finally we arrive at the waterfront at the House of Wonders – actually this is a place where the father of Freddy Mercury was also working before he was sent abroad to Delhi . It is called the House of Wonders as it was the first house in Zanzibar to have electricity and for this reason people were very much afraid when e g lights were switched on .
After this walk through the historical site we find some nice location to sit down at the harbor side – there is a nice little restaurant with a wide wooden terrace.
It is an adorable view that we have where we can just observe the traditional wooden boats , the dhows , passing by on the silent waves of the ocean . The sea has a beautiful grayish light blue color . It is quite silent around – no noise – so nice . We enjoy the moments.
In the afternoon we take a walk along the coast to our meeting point.
Our next destination is Prison Island.
We take a boat trip for about 30 minutes.
The watercolor around the island is crystal blue and the sandbank is pure.
In the slightly cloudy daylight it all looks so unreal … while we get out of the boat we find a little sea star on the sand bank , still alive – very beautiful – we just bring it back to the waterside and hope that it will recover very fast .
In old times actually the island was constructed as a prison island also for the slave trade.
A building was just prepared to store the people here but at the end the prison on Prison Island was never used as slavery was abolished in the 19th century before the building was finished.
The building and the island later served as a quarantine area for the people who had certain diseases and is today also not inhabited .
The only very sympathetic inhabitants of the island today are the giant turtles which are hold in the local sanctuary . They were imported from the Seychelles Islands long time ago and are living here , becoming about nearly 200 years old .
They are so cute and they are fitting into the surrealistic location – somehow you do not have the feeling that all this can be real .The forest , the colors of the long trees and their leaves , the rain drops in the air and these giant animals look somehow very fairy-tale like.
We enjoy the location and walk through the green forests over here and have some nice views of the island.
In the late afternoon we leave and on our way back home we pass by a little farm which is a spice farm . Not to forget to mention that Zanzibar is very famous for its spices that even today are exported to a lot of countries worldwide – we can find cinnamon , seagrass, vanilla ,different types of pepper , nutmeg and lots of flowers which are used for the perfume and cosmetic industry over here .
The soil is so fertile and there is so much rain and sun that the plants can grow easily.
Again it was an impressive day where we learnt a lot about history, people, culture and nature .
When we will be back at home and look at our pictures we will remember all the awesome details of this day trip .