The Zanzibar Doors



Around every turn in Stone Town you are bound to come across these giant wooden masterpieces, the doors of Zanzibar. Traditionally, the door was the first structure to be erected when a house was being built and in the past, they served as a valuable glimpse into the home-owner’s place of origin, profession and economic status. Some have elaborate carvings and are a reminder of Zanzibar’s affluent past.


There are two main styles of doors, one is the Indian or Gujarati door and the other is the Arab or Omani door.

The Gujarati doors are simpler with square panels and folding shutters. These can be seen near the bazaar streets where the Indian traders have their shops. Usually, the doors conceal the shop front with the traders being housed above.

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The Arab or Omani doors are grander with intricately crafted frames which have Arabic inscriptions at the top. These doors are either square on top or semi circular in shape. Some of the carved motifs on the doors are flowers, pineapples, fish scales, ropes, beads etc. and each has a symbolic meaning attached to it.

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Many of the doors have decorative metal studs or spikes on them.The large brass studs have their origins in India, where they were said to be a defense against elephants. However, in Stone Town they have been no elephants and these are mainly decorative pieces and in the past have been symbolic markers of wealth.

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Many of the doors are a work of art. You could either capture it on your camera or pick up a painting from the souvenir shop!


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