Photo story: Colours and culture in Stone Town, Zanzibar

Ruled for centuries by the Sultanate of Oman, Tanzania’s laid-back archipelago is home to a vibrant blend of African, Islamic and Portuguese architectural and artistic styles.Thursday, 10 October 2019

By Christopher Wilton-Steer
Photographs By Christopher Wilton-Steer

As the heat of the day eases, people begin to emerge along the harbour in Stone Town, the old part of Zanzibar’s capital, Zanzibar City. Generations of fisherman have plied the shores of this seafaring island, which has seen the arrival of Omani Arabs and Portuguese explorers.

Restored to its former glory in the 1990s, the distinctive lattice-worked, peppermint-green facade of Stone Town’s Old Dispensary — a waterfront landmark — now houses shops, an Ethiopian cafe and a display detailing the building’s history.

Of all its intriguing architecture, Stone Town is perhaps most famous for its doors. These large, brooding portals stand out for their design, blending African, Indian and Arabic styles brought to the islands by traders and migrants. The brass knobs protruding from many of them are inspired by those found on much larger doors in India, a practical design created to deter elephants from smashing their way through the doorway.

Worn by men, traditional, hand-embroidered Bargashia hats are a typical example of Zanzibari headwear. The islands’ historical links to the Arabian Peninsula mean they’re also a common sight in Oman. 

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Published in the October 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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