After visiting the markets of Stone Town we continued on our walking tour of this fascinating town… there was still so much to explore and so many secrets to discover! We had really only scratched the surface, but our feet were failing us after a couple of hours so we made it out mission to head back towards the Fisherman Tours & Transfers office by way of a few of the highlights of Stone Town.
Our guide, Chum, was still full of energy and knew just the route to take us to ensure we saw all the key tourist attractions but still caught glimpses of Stone Town life unfolding around us.
On our way out of the market I spotted a group of men all standing and looking in one direction – turns out they were reading the front pages of the daily newspapers all posted up on a notice board… I love this shot!
We wound our way through the streets, past corner cafes and tourist traps and continued until we came to an unsuspecting street. On closer inspection we noticed quite a few “interesting” items on display outside the shop – animal skins being one of them. Our guide informed us to keep well clear and to definitely avoid taking photos lest we get caught by the owner who was not a fan! Turns out this was the local traditional healer – a pharmacist of sorts – where people come to buy all manner of “mutis” to help them with various ailments or personal problems! Suffice to say we didn’t venture inside but I did manage a sneaky pic. Such a rule-breaker!
As we were leaving a traditionally dressed Masai strode past me – I had to look twice. Aren’t they only found in the Serengeti? Nope. In fact various members of the Masai tribe dress in their traditional attire every day as I was to discover when we headed across the island to our hotel! Unfortunately he was so tall and had such long legs that his stride was far too long and too fast for me to capture a great pic so this one of him from behind will have to do! Another secret of Stone Town revealed!
We carried on back towards the coast, catching glimpses between the buildings of a dhow sailing past, more beautiful carved doors and hidden little stores selling their wares out onto the steps and street below. We came across a group of men enjoying their lunch break playing various local games under the shade of a huge tree! So many more secrets of Stone Town to see!
Then we headed for one of the most opulent buildings in all of Stone Town… The Old Dispensary also known as Ithnashiri Dispensary. This historical building was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Gold Jubilee. It is located on the seafront, in Mizingani Road, halfway between the Palace Museum and the harbour and owes its name to the fact that it served as a dispensary in the first half of the 20th century. The Dispensary is one of the most finely decorated buildings of Stone Town and a symbol of the multi-cultural architecture and heritage of the city including Indian, Zanzibari and European influence. It has a small museum about the history of Zanzibar.
Walking along the harbour front we passed The Sultan’s Palace, one of the main historical buildings of Stone Town, Zanzibar. It has 3-floors and is located between the Old Dispensary and the House of Wonders. We then headed towards Forodhani Gardens. Here a more traditionally beautiful side of the town was revealed. A lush green garden park and open space for the public to enjoy.
We spotted a group of children from an international school learning about the various buildings surrounding the square including the Sultan Palace and a few playful kittens playing hide and seek in the long grass! So cute! See if you can spot them in the pictures below…
Surrounding the square are a few really interesting buildings including the House of Wonders, the tallest building in Stone Town and the oldest building in Zanzibar, The Old Fort. It was built in late 17th century by the Omanis to defend the island from the Portuguese, and it is known to have actually been used to repel at least one attack, from the Portuguese and their Mazrui allies. It was later used as a prison and as barracks. In the early 20th century it was used as a depot during the construction of the railway that connected Stone Town to the village of Bububu.
Unfortunately by now my feet were screaming out in agony. Even wearing the comfiest of flat shoes was now of no help. I should have worn hiking boots to cope with all the walking. It was time to sit down! We headed for the nearest roof top restaurant – part of a lovely upmarket hotel – with an awesome view, in every direction, over the rooftops of Stone Town… And a blissful ice cold drink.
All I wanted to do at this stage was sit down and relax but I couldn’t miss the opportunity of capturing Stone Town from this angle. When traveling I always love to get as high as possible to be able to get a different perspective of the lay of the land, size of the city and position I find myself in. The views of a city from above are always one of my favourite ways to see a place, this time was no different and from this vantage point there were a few more secrets of Stone Town to see! As you can see from the many pics below I had a hard time taking just a few photos or even choosing one or two to publish….
By now I was beyond caring about the smell emulating from my body (The brief trip through the fish market hadn’t helped much except to disguise my own BO during that moment!) The humidity had got the better of me and there was no help at hand, my long forgotten deodorant lanquished in a backpack far from my reach! I just had to accept that I was now the stinkiest and sweatiest I have ever been in my life, but it was all because I was experiencing one of the most memorable days of my life! It seemed a worthy exchange in the end. (Just be grateful you didn’t bump into me at this point! I’ll keep that “Secret of Stone Town” to myself and my husband! Shame)
After a brief break to refuel it was time to head back to the office and pick up our bags for our transfer to our hotel on the other side of Zanzibar island. But not before we made a quick turn past the birth place of one of true rock royalty – the Queen himself – Freddie Mercury or officially Farrokh Bulsara. He was born in Stone Town on 5 September 1946.
Freddie’s father worked at the British Colonial Office and at the age of 11 the young Farrokh was sent to school in England where he learned to play the piano. Because of the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution, his family fled permanently to England and the rest is show business and music history. A good guide in Stone Town will take you to his humble home down one of the many narrow alleys. A bad guide will take you to one of the “fake” Mercury Houses located, conveniently, at the site of a tourist trap shop! We discovered the home into which he arrived was in fact a very modest little block of about 6 flats near one of the main tourist roads in Stone Town. All that might give away the home of flamboyant Freddie are a few photos of him at the peak of his career and the small bronze name plaque over the door – the building having been renamed after him of course!
And then it was over – our amazing day exploring the secrets of Stone Town had come to and end. And it was only 2pm! It felt like a lifetime since we had stepped off the plane at the airport just after 8am. It is amazing how much your life can change in a morning. And mine surely did. Stone Town introduced me to the wonders of discovering a new culture – one vastly different from my own, and hugely captivating! I was entranced by this special place. It was a town alive with smells, sights and sounds, filled with people who don’t know how charming they are. I loved every minute – even the smelly ones! And next time I’ll definitely stay longer instead of doing such a fast and fleeting foot tour. There was so much to take in and I would have loved to linger longer and watch life unfold around me. Taking things at a slower pace obviously needs more time and that we didn’t have but I’m so glad I scratched the surface and am hopeful of a return visit to go a bit deeper next time! What made our experience was our amazing guide, Chum, he was friendly and knowledgeable, always aware of our needs and safety and so happy to help us explore his home town. Our half day tour of Stone Town was merely an introductory guide and provided living evidence of a rich cultural heritage, where Arab, Indian, Persian and European influences blend with local African tradition. The tour included a visit to the Town Market, Slave Market, National Museum of Zanzibar, Slave Chambers, Africa House (former English Club), Tip-Tip House, Kelele Square, Old British Consulate, Orphanage Home, Old Fort, Forodhani Gardens, House of Wonders, Sultan Palace (now a Museum), Custom House, Old Dispensary and the Old Harbour. And it was so worth it!
But now it was time for our transfer to the “island” part of our holiday and we were so ready to relaaaaaax. Come back next Monday for more!!
If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more about my African Adventures exploring Zanzibar click one of the links below:
0 for everything else including tour of Stone Town and Spice Farm and Scuba Diving.
Images: Kathryn Rossiter