The largest town in the archipelago is the capital, Stone Town, located in the middle of the west coast of Unguja, the main island. The town was named for the coral stone buildings that were built there on the site of a very old fishing village. Zanzibar Town is divided into two sections by Creek Road, though the creek itself has now been reclaimed. On the west side is the ‘heart’ of Zanzibar Town: the evocative old quarter, usually called Stone Town. This is the most interesting section for visitors: many of the buildings here were constructed during the 19th century (although some date from before this time), when Zanzibar was a major trading centre and at the height of its power. The trade created wealth which in turn led to the construction of palaces, many fine houses and mosques. The muezzin calls can be heard echoing above the narrow streets five times daily. Discovering the architectural gems hidden along the tortuous maze of narrow streets is part of the town’s magic and mysterys. Stone Town has been declared a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in 2000.
The architecture is Arabic, which means the walls are very thick, the houses tall and with square and simple facades. Many of the buildings have a central courtyard going up through all the floors, giving ventilation. Decoration has been added, usually by Indian craftsmen, in the form of wooden balconies and carved doors and stairways. Some of the doors have brass studs which originate from India, where they were used to protect buildings against elephants.
Besides having interesting architectural features in most of its houses, Stone Town is punctuated with major historical buildings, including the The House of Wonders (“Beit-Al-Ajaib”), The Palace Museum (also know as the Sultan’s Palace), the Old Fort (“Ngome Kongwe”, a heavy 17th century Omani fortress), Malindi Mosque and the Aga Khan Mosque, the colonial “Old Dispensary“, theHamamni Persian Baths, the Anglican cathedral, the seafront park Forodhani Gardens, and the Darajani market.
Annual cultural events in Stone Town include the Sauti Za Busara Music Festival in February, theZanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) in July, and the religious celebrations of Eid al-Fitr after Ramadhan and Eid al-Adha on the 10th day of the last Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah.