The largest town on the island of Zanzibar is the capital, Stone Town, located in the middle of the west coast of Unguja, the main island. The town was named for the coral stone buildings that were built there largely during the 19th century, on the site of a very old fishing village. There are over 16,000 people in the town today, and over 1,700 recorded buildings.
Tall houses line narrow alleyways set in a confusing maze radiating out from the centre towards the sea.The streets are too narrow for cars but not, unfortunately, for bicycles and even motorbikes, so be careful! Life is lived very much as it was in the past and the many mosques’ muezzin calls can be heard echoing above the narrow streets five times daily. The architecture is Arabic, which means the walls are very thick, the houses tall and with square and simple facades. Many of the buildings have a central courtyard going up through all the floors, giving ventilation.
Decoration has been added, usually by Indian craftsmen, in the form of wooden balconies and carved doors and stairways. Some of the doors have brass studs which originate in India, where they were used to protect buildings against elephants. The oldest, simplest and most traditional doors have horizontal lintels, as seen in Oman and Arabia generally; later doors have rounded tops and this style shows Indian design influence – many of the builders and craftsmen used in building Zanzibar were from the sub-continent. There are varying motifs in the carving: dates, fish, chains, flowers, lotus and many more.
There are 51 mosques, whose muezzin cries vie with each other at prayer time, as well as 6 Hindu Temples and a Catholic as well as an Anglican Cathedral in this multi-ethnic town. There are many burial places around the outskirts, with interesting headstones and graves, and some important graves in the town itself, usually of religious leaders of the past.