Home' Rotary Down Under : July 2015 (NZ Pacific) Contents TRAVELLER
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Villa and garden flat in wine country near Mediterranean.
Details at: www.les-oliviers.org
tourists to promenade or sit on ever-present benches and
take the air. I try a recommended Zanzibari pizza. It’s...
unexpected; I doubt I’ll eat another.
Zanzibar is what it is – different – because of its history.
And the historic influences can be viewed through its
trade in spices, ivory and slaves. Zanzibar was known to
the ancient Greeks and, of course, coastal Africans. Later
Arabs, Indians and Persians traded and many stayed. Islam
was established here in the ninth
century, and embedded long before the
European explorers. Portugal colonised
Zanzibar as a military post for two
centuries before being ousted by the
Sultanate of Oman in 1698.
The Omani Sultan developed
Zanzibar’s arable land with spice
plantations, conveniently closer to
European markets, and increased trade
in ivory and slaves. He even moved his
capital here. Generations of sultans ruled from 1700 until
1890 when Britain became the protectorate nominating
rulers and ending slavery. A usurper sultan fled when the
British fired on the House of Wonders for 40 minutes – the
“shortest war in history”. With “the winds of change” in
Africa, and an independent Tanganyika, Zanzibar became
a short-lived constitutional monarchy (sultanate) in 1963.
A month later saw a bloody revolution oust the last sultan
and all the Arabs and Indians, to become a revolutionary
republic until, inevitably, joining mainland Tanganyika
in1964 as a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania.
A spice tour with hotel guests provides an opportunity
to tour outside Stone Town and to discover the origins of
my kitchen spice rack. But the historic walking tour (for
one) opens up the past and present and encourages me to
dive into these labyrinthine alleyways,
which I do every day, often at differing
times to capture their life beat. Each
time I enter I walk a different way, find
something different or interesting, pop
up near sand, sea or boats – and get
lost. But Stone Town is so small there’s
no problem in losing your way. Either a
smiling resident will help or you’ll come
out at the beach or the Creek Road
A few steps from my hotel there’s calm and quiet. It’s
mainly residential here, with wide, clean and surprisingly
sunlit alleyways tying into a knot of open space. And
exemplifying the mix there’s also the oldest mosque near a
modern high-rise hotel. Arabian architecture predominates
with overhanging wooden lattice balconies – a woman’s
secret place – and a sprinkling of ornate studded Zanzibari
doors. They are a cultural emblem originating from the days
of inserting metal spikes to thwart elephants from breaking
and entering. They can be read as either Arab or Asian by
their shape, carving and top panel.
Hurumzi Street opens out to more commercial activities
of shops and hotels but there, stuck in a corner, is the bulk
of the St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, its spire a
guide to seafarers. Most buildings have a flat-top roof to
serve breakfast or just catch the breeze and I am invited
to view the wonderful panorama from Mara Mara Hotel.
A mosque’s minuet and the cathedral’s steeple emerge
as slender shoots from a bed of rusted corrugated iron.
Beyond, dhows ply the sparkling blue waters.
A visit to Darajani Market on Creek Road answers my
question about the dearth of food shops. This 100-year-old,
high wooden structure is huge, selling every conceivable
foodstuff. It’s not for the squeamish as close-quarter,
unrefrigerated butchering abounds, but it is fascinating.
Through a window I see the bobbing heads of an unusually
quiet and orderly circle of people. It’s the daily fish auction,
a most important economic activity.
The massive Old Fort, built by Omani Arabs in 1700 from
the rubble of a destroyed convent, is now the culture centre,
with an amphitheatre for outdoor productions. North of
Stone Town lies the ruins of Mtoni Palace, which provides
a magical backdrop for evening performances. Past the Old
Fort, Kenyatta Road becomes more touristic. Souvenir shops
sell fabrics and carvings and enthusiastic “ticks” abound.
“Zanzibar is what it
is – different – because
of its history. And the
historic influences can
be viewed through its
trade in spices, ivory
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