Zanzibar: the Omani influence

Having lived in Oman, I can see some of the similarities that it shares in architecture, culture and religion with Zanzibar. In Stone Town today, the religion is predominantly Islamic and the Arab influence can be seen in the architecture and houses, with their elaborately carved wooden doors.

Zanzibar and Oman are separated by about 3000 miles of the Indian Ocean. In 1840, the Omani Sultan moved his capital from Muscat to Stone Town when the Arab association with Zanzibar had reached its peak –  as a trading place for ivory, slaves and spices. During this period, the fishing village of Zanzibar with mud huts and thatched roofs was converted into a town with houses made of stone, lime and mortar.

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Located in Stone Town, on the main seafront facing the Forodhani garden, is the Old Fort. I am told that it’s the oldest building in Zanzibar. Along with being a prominent landmark of the town, it also offers a glimpse of the Omani influence in Zanzibar’s historical past.

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It was built in the late 17th century by the Omanis to defend the island from the Portuguese. Later, it was used as a prison and as a barracks and in the early 20th century as a depot for the railway. Today, the Old Fort houses a tourist office, a variety of souvenir shops and is also used as a cultural centre.

WP_20150718_007During the annual Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) the open air amphitheater inside the Old Fort comes alive with film screenings and performances.

Today the two countries are separated, with Oman being a part of the Middle East and Zanzibar a part of Africa, but cultural and familial ties still remain with the Arabs of Oman.

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