Zanzibar, the exotic and legendary spice islands of the Indian Ocean, conjures up images of palm-fringed silver beaches, coral reefs, narrow streets with carved doors, colourful markets with exotic fruits, spices and materials and ancient fishing dhows on turquoise tropical waters.
This semi-autonomous archipelago of Tanzania consists of the two main Islands of Unguja (commonly referred to as Zanzibar Island), Pemba and 50 or so other surrounding small islets.
The capital of Zanzibar, located on Unguja, is Zanzibar City. Trading in slaves, gold, ivory and spices, merchants accumulated wealth to build the high stone buildings which give its World Heritage center its name - “Stone Town”.
Zanzibar has a fascinating, colourful, violent and cruel history. It was one of the largest slave ports in the Indian Ocean slave trade. There are memorials to the slave trade on the site of the former slave market, where the Anglican church now stands. Over centuries an array of different peoples - Sumerians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Phonecians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Portuguse, Omani Arabs, Dutch and British - have settled and left behind a legacy of their stay, influencing the islands to become the cultural cocktail it is today.
The name Zanzibar has Persian or Arabic origin. The Persians deduce the name from Zangh Bar, meaning "the Negro Coast," while the Arabs like to derive the name from the Arabic Zayn Z'al Barr, meaning "Fair is this land"
From Zanzibar the great European explorers - Burton, Speke, Livingstone and Stanley - set off for their expeditions to discover yet unknown secrets and treasures of the African continent. Today it welcomes a new generation of explorers, those who have come to breathe in the fragrant scents of cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, pepper and nutmeg and to marvel at the rich and mystic heritage, reflected in the architecture
and the culture of the people.
Photo by John Metzger