It may not have a particularly romantic name, but Stone Town is the old city and cultural heart of Zanzibar, little changed in the last 200 years. It is a place of winding alleys, bustling bazaars, mosques and grand Arab houses whose original owners vied with each other over the extravagance of their dwellings. This one-upmanship is particularly reflected in the brass-studded, carved, wooden doors – there are more than 500 different examples of this handiwork. You can spend many idle hours and days just wandering through the fascinating labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways.Stone Town was recently and deservedly declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. More
information can be found at theUNESCO website.
Most of the houses that can be seen today were built in the 19th century when Zanzibar was one of
the most important trading centres in the Indian Ocean region. The coraline rock of Zanzibar was a
good building material, but it is also easily eroded. This is evident by the large number of houses
that are in a bad state of repair. Several buildings have already been renovated and the Stone Town
Conservation Authority has been established to co-ordinate the restoration of the town to its original
magnificence. Pictured opposite is a ‘before and after’ look at the restoration work done on the Old Dispensary
As a result of sensible policy, nearly all of the major hotels built in Stone Town are housed in renovated buildings.
Hotels in Stone Town include the Zanzibar Serena Inn, Tembo House Hotel, Dhow Palace Hotel andHotel International
As you walk through the town, please remember that Stone Town is very much a real community,
where real people live and work. It is not a museum piece or theme park created for tourists, and
sensitivity should be shown to the local people.
If you want to learn more about Stone Town, there are various ways to do it. You can either wander
through the narrow streets by yourself armed with a map, or you can embark on a tour with one of
the local tour operators. But first, take a look at our list of places to visit in Stone Town.