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Discovering the architectural gems hidden along the tortuous maze of narrow streets and alleyways that wind through Stone Town is part of the island’s magic for many visitors.
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 more interesting section for visitors: many of the buildings 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, mosques and many fine houses. Discovering the architectural gems hidden along the tortuous maze of narrow streets and alleyways that wind through Stone Town is part of the island’s magic for many visitors. Aside from the souvenir Tingatinga paintings and beaded jewellery, it’s a scene virtually unchanged since the mid 19th century.
The Slave Market Memorial of Stone Town with a church in the background © tr3gin, Shutterstock
The best way to explore Stone Town is on foot, but the maze of lanes and alleys can be very disorientating. To help you get your bearings, it is useful to think of Stone Town as a triangle, bounded on two sides by sea, and along the third by Creek Road. If you get lost, it is always possible to aim in one direction until you reach the outer edge of the town where you should find a landmark.
Tall houses line the alleyways of Stone Town © Koverninska Olga, Shutterstock
Although many of the thoroughfares in Stone Town are too narrow for cars, when walking you should watch out for bikes and scooters being ridden at breakneck speed! It’s also useful to realise that paths wide enough for cars are usually called roads while narrower ones are generally referred to as streets. When looking for hotels or places of interest, you should also note that most areas of Stone Town are named after the main street in that area: the area being referred to as Kiponda Street or Malindi Street, instead of simply Kiponda or Malindi. This can be confusing, as you may not be on the street of that name. But don’t worry: at least you’re near!