Why it was good to be the Sultan

Mostly because you got to live here:

not too shabby...

Stone Town, Zanzibar, is a labyrinth of narrow pedestrian-only streets, white-washed buildings and shops full of spices.  The town is a fascinating blend of Arabic, Persian, Indian, Swahili, and European influences and has a rich and colorful history.   The Sultan of Oman, Said bin Sultan, moved his seat of power from Muscat to Zanzibar in 1840.  Stone Town flourished with revenue from the spice and slave trades.  It was also the last point to stock up on supplies before great explorers, such as Burton, Speke, Livingstone, and Stanley set off into the unknown African continent.  Perhaps most interestingly, Stone Town was the site of the shortest war in history.  When the Sultan rebelled against increasing British power in Zanzibar, the Anglo-Zanzibar war lasted 45 minutes.  Brits 1, Sultan of Zanzibar 0.

Photo from the House of Wonders

Well preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you wander through the streets of Stone Town and get lost in another  world.  The narrow streets twist and turn so that it’s easy to lose one’s way.  We navigated using beautiful mosque minarets or the tower at the Palace of Wonders.  Turning a corner, you could find yourself at the wall of the 17th century Omani fort or the 19th century English Club of East Africa.  We stayed in a boutique hotel that was once Princess Kholle’s home (daughter of one Sultan, sister of another), built in 1860 and richly decorated with heavy wooden Zanzibari furniture and turmeric colored walls.  Most of these photos are Kevin’s…

Love the turquoise windows

Kholle House

Lovely fruit scene

Kevin's photo of a school group visiting the Sultan's Palace

Stone Town roof tops

The people of Stone Town don’t seem to mind the tourists so much – in fact, they seem totally disinterested.  They go about their laid-back days, many of them wearing conservative Islamic veils and kofias.  While Zanzibar is part of Tanzania, it is semi-autonomous and there is definitely a strong Zanzibari identity and pride.  After dinner one night, while wandering around enjoying the warm tropical breezes, we came upon a small group of men sitting on a carpet outside, watching soccer.  It was if they had recreated their living room in the middle of a park.  They invited us to join them and offered us sweetmeats and spiced coffee.  They described to us the complicated political environment in Zanzibar and how they hope one day to be an autonomous country.  Their warmth and hospitality made it one of my favorite moments in Zanzibar.

Going about daily life

Mosque Minaret

There were other highlights, including good seafood.  Every night a massive street market is set up in the gardens along the port.  Tables are piled high with grilled shrimp, lobster, and fish.  One night we had a really lovely dinner in the highest restaurant in Zanzibar – the tower is so small it only seats about eight people.  We enjoyed our meal as the sun set and could hear the Islamic calls to prayer all around us.

Seafood Market! with Lobster!


And COFFEE!  Can’t forget about the coffee!  I enjoyed my favorite cup of spiced coffee at the Zanzibar Coffee House…

Spiced coffee

There was also excellent shopping – I probably bought 17 kikois – colorful cotton wraps that act as scarves, throws, beach blankets, table cloths, etc.  They come in a wide range of colors which meant I had to buy one in every color… well, at least one in every color.

Kikois for everyone!

We hit up the big museums – again, Sandy rolled his eyes at my nerdiness, but I think he secretly enjoyed himself.  One of the museums was the former Sultan’s Palace where we had a very informative guide who ignored the big “do not touch” signs and let us sit on the furniture.  Encouraged it, actually, and was happy to play the photographer.

Behind the 'Do Not Touch' Sign

All in all, we decided that it was, in fact, good to be the Sultan, despite losing the 45-minute war, because you got to call this place home…

Zanzibar Harbor

And a few dhow photos, just for good measure…


Dhows 1-4

Dhows 5,6 and 7 (one of my favorite photos!)

Dhows 8, 9 and 10



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5 responses to “Why it was good to be the Sultan

  1. Triple B

    Can you bring back a couple of Dhow’s. One for Possum Creek in Chattanooga and one for Sweet Grass in Charleston. Kate, you just keep getting better looking. Africa is going to miss you when you leave.

  2. Anonymous

    Kate and Sandy
    This post is the best ever! The photography and your prose combine to make me feel like I was there. I surely WISH I were there! What is the state language in Zanzibar? Were you surprised the man in the park spoke English and invited you to join his park living room? Will you ever come home from such fantastic places??? Keep the blogs coming — we are living vicariously!

  3. Ginny

    Great post, Kate! I got my history lesson in for the day! The pictures were awesome. I want to go!

  4. Barbara Jones

    I love the way you include a good history lesson for all of us while telling your stories…..once again beautiful photos and we always LOVE it when you two are in them!!!! You both look great!

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