There are many wonderful things about Zanzibar: snow-white beaches, cerulean water, aromatic spices, and friendly locals. But for me, the best thing about Zanzibar, specifically about Stone Town, is the photography.
Stone Town, the oldest quarter in the island’s capital city of Zanzibar Town, dates back nearly 200 years. The old city was once the seat of the Sultan of Oman and throughout the 19th century it was a busy spice and slave-trade port servicing Africa, Europe, India, Persia and the Middle East. Zanzibar became a British protectorate in 1896 and eventually merged with Tanganyika to form the nation of Tanzania.
Stone Town’s mix of African, Middle Eastern, Asian and European influences has churned into a culture that resembles a pot of Zanzibari seafood curry: bold, spicy, sweet, colourful and mysterious. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, Stone Town, over and above the rest of Zanzibar, feels ancient and otherworldly. Thick-walled buildings, many of which were built with chunks of sturdy ocean coral, close in on one another. Narrow cobbled streets, just wide enough for a couple of scooters and crisscrossed by tangles of electrical wires, are perpetually filled with people: women in colourful hijabs or black abayas, men in loose white robes and woven taqiyahs (Muslim caps), and giggling barefoot children.
Stone Town’s maze of streets – cool and permanently dusk-like, as only a few rays of midday sun find their way between the buildings – occasionally open onto bright courtyards where several roads intersect. One such intersection is ‘Jaws Corner’, so named because the elders of Stone Town go there to flap their jaws. Men sit on stone ledges lining the walls of Jaws Corner (one wall is painted with a menacing great white shark), drinking tea and watching political speeches on television. Bicycles skitter past, bells tinkling, weaving between pedestrians. Scooters hoot. Brightly coloured batik paintings, woven scarves and wooden sculptures spill onto the street from ubiquitous souvenir shops, whose owners call out to passing tourists. “You are welcome,” the shop owners call. “There’s no charge to look.