The Colours and Shadows of Stone Town, Zanzibar
Shabby streets surrounded by crumbling buildings. Alleyways leading to mysterious homes that also serve as temples during the Salah times; the Muslim praying hours. Forgotten doors, left to crack in the scorching sun.
Despite this, Stone Town still remains a very charming place, still echoing the past years of its colonisation. Walking down its cryptic streets is quite a unique experience, as most of its inhabitants seem to be still living in the times of the Sultanate era. It’s a time travel to the old splendor of the times of the Persian merchants and Arabic Sultans.
The once prominent buildings supported by the imposing columns are now falling apart. The locals do not seem to bother at all and they love to lie in the shade of the open courtyards during the late hours of their sweltering afternoons.
What’s overwhelming about these towns is the astonishment one experiences at the unexpected contrast of style and décor when walking into some of the houses or boutique hotels. There are typical Arabic-style houses with recessed courtyards, shaded by the leaves of very long exotic plants.
You’ll see hidden balconies decorated with lattice work. Bedrooms are dominated by four-poster beds with solid wood carved headboards, some of which depict scenes from the dark ages of the slave trade.
There are beautifully muted coloured walls, some engraved with glass, and multi-coloured glass bead curtains adorning antique brass baths. You may also dine on roof-top dining corners, covered with colourful exotic patterned cushions with views overlooking the west coast of the island.
You’ll come across modest dwellings, but nonetheless opulent due to their intricate interiors. Here, new world material possessions become irrelevant. Style and luxury is created not by expensive ornaments or technological equipment, but by accumulated style and taste.
Restored to their former glory with a particular focus on certain details, the luxury of some of the boutique hotels is captured in the romantic history of the place. Although they seem a bit historical, they don’t lack any kind of comfort, and are set up to the standards of the modern traveler.
I had finally arrived at our boutique hotel. As soon as I walked in one of the rooms and opened the window to look on the view in front of me, smells and voices from the spices and honey merchants came softly wafting through the curtains. A complete detachment, these places and corners of the Slave Trade Route have now changed to become jewels of the coral roads where you may step into the past to be transported into a sophisticated dream. That night, right before I decided to settle in bed, someone knocked on my door. It was one of the hotel’s maids, who came in to make sure all windows were closed, spreading fresh lavender petals on the bed, a very old method to repel insects which are quite common on these exotic islands.
The next day, out from this city, my chauffeur drove past a lacy forest of trees sweeping down to the sea towards the East Coast of Zanzibar.