Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Carved doors of Stone Town, Zanzibar

Stone Town, Zanzibar was built in the 1830's when the archipelago was under the rule of the Sultan of Oman.
19th century Stone Town flourished as a trading hub which specialised in spices and slaves. the thriving commerce attracted bussiness communities  from Persia, Oman and India.
A large Indian community in the business of trade continues to make Stone Town their home.
Narrow alleyways criss-cross Stone Town and in this maze are shops, houses, bazaars and mosques. The alleys are so narrow that only bicycles and scooters can be used to traverse them and the buildings on either side rise up two floors or more and have been built cheek by jowl with the establishment next door. Walking down an alley one perceives a continous expanse of masonry on either side punctuated at irregular intervals with barred and shuttered windows and the most magnificent carved wooden doors. The upper floors of the houses probably have views of the sea if they are on the periphery of Stone Town.  
The doors of this Unesco World heritage site are simply remarkable. There are two types of doors. The rectangular top Omani doors and the arched or rounded top of the Indian doors. The old doors and hanging balconies were carved by craftsmen from the Indian sub continent.
 Heavy old doors intricately carved but many are in a state of disrepair.
 The stylised lotus motif symbolising prosperity is a recurring motif on these carved doors.  
 The pointed brass studs on the doors are an Indian feature. In India, the studs were an important design element which prevented elephants from ramming down the doors of palaces and fortifications. Stone Town is not likely to have an elephant amble down its alleyways but the brass studs have become a decorative element characteristic of the doors in Stone Town.
The blue door. The only painted door I came across.
The house of Tipu Tip (1837 - 1905) which is undergoing renovation. Tipu Tip was governor, clove plantation owner, explorer and a trader in ivory and slaves. His house has an underground channel which connects to the sea. This channel was used to bring in slaves to be hidden in his house and taken out under the cover of darkness to a slave ship which was ready to sail. Tipu Tip continued to trade in slaves after slavery was banned.  
 A magnificent example of carving. The stylised foliage is exceptional.
 Verses from the Koran are carved into some doors.
Stone Town was included on UNESCO's World Heritage sites in 2000.
An unusual door, different from the other doors. This door is squat and has a geometrical pattern of recessed rectangles and metal studs. No elaborately carved door jambs or lintel, with only a narrow floral strip in the centre.

Stone Town gets its name from the coral stone used in building the structures.History and traditions whether its European, Arab, African or Indian  have mingled to create a unique Zanzibarian culture.
Put Zanzibar on your list of places to visit.

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