Zanzibar, The Spice Isle
‘The isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight'
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
For centuries past, cardamom, clove and cinnamon culled from the fabled spice gardens of the enchanted island of Zanzibar have been prized by sultans and princes alike.
Now you can pick them for yourself on a spice tour that takes you from the winding alleys, carved doors and cool courtyards of Stone Town, through the slave caches of the coral bays, past the blue-domed bath-houses of long dead sultans and out onto the silver and blue ribbons of Zanzibar's perfect beaches.
To enter the world of Zanzibar is to step through the looking glass into the world of a thousand and one nights and black eyes that smile from behind deep veils. There's a House of Wonders and a street of food, a Palace Museum, an ancient slave market, an age-old fort, a ruined harem and the house where Dr Livingstone once lived.
There are Red Colobus Monkeys and dolphins and a bright tapestry of Arab, African and Swahili culture, folklore and cuisine that are as mesmeric as myth.
There's also a wide selection of wonderful hotels, wide-open beaches and all the facilities that you could possible require.
Area: Zanzibar 3,354 km, Pemba 1,537 km
Population: 1,000,000 approximately
Language: Kiswahili (English widely spoken)
Religion: Predominantly Muslim with Christian and Hindu as a minority.
Capital: The capital of Zanzibar, located on the island of Unguja, is Zanzibar City, and its old quarter, known as Stone Town, is a World Heritage Site. Zanzibar Town
The word "Zanzibar" probably derives from the Persian Zangi-bar ("coast of the blacks"); ultimately from the Arabic words of the same meaning. Once a separate state with a long trading history within the Arab world; Zanzibar united with Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1964, and still enjoys a high degree of autonomy within the union.
Zanzibar's main industries are spices, raffia, and tourism. It is still sometimes referred to as the Spice Islands (a term also associated with the Maluku Islands in Indonesia), because of the significance of its production of cloves, of which it used to be the world leader, and also nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper.
The ecology is of note for being the home of the endemic Zanzibar Red Colobus and the elusive Zanzibar Leopard.
The capital city, Zanzibar, is divided into two sections: Stone Town, a World Heritage site, and Ngambo. The buildings are predominantly white coral stone with a noticeable Arab architectural style. Balconies in Stone Town surround central courtyards and open-arched rooms to ensure that the interiors are always cool. The exterior doors are intricately carved and inlaid with brass.
Narrow roads meander between buildings some over a century old, leading you to picturesque bazaars with carpenters, jewellers, hawkers, tailors and coffee sellers. Along the island's eastern shore runs a protective reef, which is as beautiful as it is functional.
Zanzibar is a conservative, Sunni Muslim society. Its history was influenced by the Arabs, Persians, Indians, Portuguese, British and the African mainland.
Stone Town is a place of winding lanes, circular towers, carved wooden doors, raised terraces and beautiful mosques. Important architectural features are the Livingstone house, the Guliani Bridge, and the House of Wonders. The town of Kidichi features the hammam (Persian baths), built by immigrants from Shiraz, Iran during the reign of Barghash bin Said.
Zanzibar, mainly Pemba Island, was once the world's leading clove producer, but annual clove sales have since plummeted by 80% since the 1970s. Explanations given for this is a fast-moving global market, international competition and a hangover from Tanzania's failed experiment with socialism in the 1960s and '70s, when the government controlled clove prices and exports. Zanzibar now ranks a distant third with Indonesia supplying 75% of the world's cloves, compared to Zanzibar's 7%.
Zanzibar exports spices, seaweed and fine raffia. It also has a large fishing and dugout canoe production. Tourism is a major foreign currency earner.
The presence of microlithic tools attests to 20,000 years of human occupation of Zanzibar. The islands became part of the historical record of the wider world when Arab traders discovered them and used them as a base for voyages between Arabia, India, and Africa. Unguja offered a protected and defensible harbour, so although the archipelago offered few products of value, the Arabs settled at what became Zanzibar City (Stone Town) as a convenient point from which to trade with East African coastal towns. They established garrisons on the islands and built the first mosque in the Southern hemisphere.
During the Age of Exploration, the Portuguese Empire was the first European power to gain control of Zanzibar, and kept it for nearly 200 years. In 1698, Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman, which developed an economy of trade and cash crops, with a ruling Arab elite. Plantations were developed to grow spices, hence the moniker of the Spice Islands (a name also used of Dutch colony the Moluccas, now part of Indonesia). Another major trade good was ivory, the tusks of elephants killed in mainland Africa. The third pillar of the economy was slaves, giving Zanzibar an important place in the Arab slave trade, the Indian Ocean equivalent of the better-known Triangular Trade. Zanzibar City was the main trading port of the East African slave trade, with about 50,000 slaves a year passing through the city. The Sultan of Zanzibar controlled a substantial portion of the East African coast, known as Zanj, which included Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, and trading routes which extended much further inland, such as to Kindu on the Congo River.
Sometimes gradually, sometimes by fits and starts, control came into the hands of the British Empire; part of the political impetus for this was the 19th century movement for the abolition of the slave trade. The relationship between Britain and the nearest relevant colonial power, Germany, was formalized by the 1890 Helgoland-Zanzibar Treaty, in which Germany pledged not to interfere with British interests in insular Zanzibar. That year, Zanzibar became a protectorate (not a colony) of Britain. From 1890 to 1913, traditional viziers were appointed to govern as puppets, switching to a system of British residents (effectively governors) from 1913 to 1963. The death of one sultan and the succession of another of whom the British did not approve led to the Anglo-Zanzibar War. On the morning of 27 August 1896, ships of the Royal Navy destroyed the Beit al Hukum Palace; a cease fire was declared 38 minutes later, and the bombardment subsequently became known as The Shortest War in History.
The islands gained independence from Britain in December 1963 as a constitutional monarchy. A month later, the bloody Zanzibar Revolution, in which thousands of Arabs and Indians were killed in a genocide and thousands more expelled, established the Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba. That April, the republic merged with the mainland former colony of Tanganyika, or more accurately, was subsumed by the much larger entity. This United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar was soon renamed as a portmanteau, the United Republic of Tanzania, of which Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region.