Travel

The Ancient Doors & Alleyways of Zanzibar

Zanzibar is a top destination for many reasons. With its turquoise warm lagoons and soft sandy beaches, it offers a romantic tropical getaway as well as a relaxing post-safari experience. But more than that, Zanzibar is a cultural melting pot with a rich history and heritage which are heavily reflected in Stone Town, the historic section of the capital Zanzibar City, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking through this ancient part of Zanzibar feels like stepping back in time to centuries ago when merchants were trading spices. The sharp contrast of experiences that Zanzibar offers, from the gorgeous beaches to the labyrinth of alleyways and intricate door carvings in Stone Town, makes the luxury of booking Zanzibar holiday packages worth every penny.

Stone Town was given its name due to the use of coral stone as construction material. The design and architecture of the buildings in Stone Town reflect the fusion of Arab, Persian, Indian, European, and African influences. Most of the historical buildings such as sultans’ palaces, religious buildings, and fortifications, are located closer to the seafront, while other traditional houses are found further inland along the winding small streets. A characteristic of a traditional building is the veranda or balcony, which is protected and decorated by wooden balustrades. Another typical feature is the long stone bench along the outside wall of the house, called a baraza, which until today serves two main purposes: a place for men to socialize, and an elevated sidewalk during rainy days.

Another distinct feature of a traditional building in Stone Town is the carved teak door. There are two main types of doors, one is rounded at the top and is of Indian origin, while the other is designed in a rectangular Omani-Arab style. The brass studs on the doors are purely decorative, unlike their original purpose in India, which was to protect against elephants. The carvings on the doors are all subtly different; some include Arabic verses and words, while others include designs that are symbolic representations, such as a lotus flower representing prosperity. Additionally, the doors helped to distinguish between social status, business identity of the owner and their profession, and religious affiliations.

Walk through the small alleyways and get lost in the maze of winding streets and old buildings as you discover Stone Town. It is easy to get distracted by the lineup of tourist shops and stalls selling arts and crafts, among herds of locals and visitors walking through. It can get chaotic and busy. However, Stone Town can also be charming and inspiring when one focuses on its history and cultural heritage, paying close attention to the intricate details of its buildings and houses. After navigating the labyrinth of small streets, head to Darajani Market for local food, crafts, spices, and other artefacts.

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