Zanzibar consists of two Indian Ocean tropical islands, Pemba and Unguja, surrounded by several islets, near Dar es Salaam in Tanzania on the East African coast. The capital is Stone Town.
People have lived in Zanzibar for 20 000 years and the islands were used as a base for traders on their way between Arabia, India and Africa. Persian traders settled in Zanzibar City (Stone Town) because the island of Unguja offered a protected and defensible harbour and a convenient trading point to other coastal towns, although the archipelago had few valuable products to offer traders. The traders established garrisons and the first mosque in the Southern hemisphere on the island.
The Portuguese Empire was the first European power to gain control of Zanzibar, which it ruled for nearly 200 years, until 1698, when Zanzibar became part of the Sultanate of Oman. Zanzibar became an important trading station for spices, ivory and slaves. Plantations were established to grow spices and Zanzibar became known as the Spice Islands. Ivory and slaves from mainland Africa contributed to the thriving economy of Zanzibar.
Zanzibar became a British protectorate in 1890 and in 1896 the islands became part of the shortest war in history, the Anglo-Zanzibar War, when the sultan died and the British did not approve of his successor.
The islands gained independence from Britain in December 1963 and became a constitutional monarchy. A month later, the bloody Zanzibar Revolution caused the death of many Arabs and Indians and thousands were expelled and expropriated. This led to the founding of the Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba. In April 1964, the Republic merged with mainland Tanganyika, which later became the Republic of Tanzania. Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania.
Over the centuries Zanzibar was influenced by many different cultures. China, Arabia and Persia, as well as the Portuguese and the English, all contributed to the unique history and diverse culture of Zanzibar.
The capital, Stone Town, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 with its eclectic mix of cultures, architecture and languages. Visitors can clearly see the impact of the different cultures on the architecture and the people of Stone Town. The houses built from coral and stone have imposing wooden doors, set with brass studs and often containing carvings of scripts from the Quraan.
Zanzibar is therefore a unique destination filled with history and character, beautiful beaches and wonderful people.
Important Cultural Considerations
Visitors must remember that Zanzibar is a religious country where 95% of the inhabitants are Muslim. To show respect, visitors are requested to dress modestly and refrain from public displays of affection. When walking through towns or villages, women should wear clothes that cover their shoulders and knees and men should not walk bare-chested or in swimming trunks. Swimwear is acceptable on the beaches, but topless sunbathing is not. Visitors must ask people for their permission before taking photographs of them.
It is considered bad manners to drink and eat in public during the fast of Ramadan and non-Muslims should not enter mosques unless specifically invited to do so.