In the narrow streets of 19th century Stone Town (Unesco world heritage) the doors are an attraction on their own. Every one of them is a piece of massive art with elegant woodcarving. At the same time they are a sample of all the cultures that were important for the Zanzibari architecture. Each and every door tells us a story and shows us the social status of the first inhabitants of the houses. We walk with local Shabaan in the labyrinthof the Zanzibari capital and we pushmore then once literally an open door.

Arabical doors are typical for the Shangani district.

The last slave market in the world. On Kelele Square at the old slave market in the Shagani district, Shabaan,a local who wants to show us some hidden gems in town, is waiting for us. Stone Town is an architecture lovers delight. Shabaan speaks English with a heavy Swahili accent. It takes us a while to adapt. Fast means first and bats aren’t the scary night creatures, but simply birds. After a few minutes we make the click to his rather funny pigeon English and all of a sudden a whole new world opens up for us. From the slave market we’re walking into the Baghani district, a labyrinth of narrow streets. Scooters bicycles and over loaded push carts are slaloming and speeding as if they were participating in some kind of contest. They’re zizagging amidstthe pedestrians in alleys not larger then 6 feet. Next to the bazars we see small needle workshops and tiny hidden stands with kofias. Except immitations of  artworks from East Afrika, we can also buy antiques and nice souvenirs in this part of town. Every vendor shouts ‘djambo’ when we pass, always followed by: ‘come and see my shop, very cheap…’ For them we are not only wazungu (swahili for white European travellers) but in the first place potential clients. The shops in Baghani are often not more then a black hole behind a big door, a bit dark, mostly without windows. Shabaan explains that Shagani and Baghani were both neighbourhoods of slave sellers, an exclusive trade of the Arabs. Their doors were in the 19th century their business cards. You could see by the door how wealthy they were. Most of their business was done at home. Shabaan shows us one of these beautiful Arab doors. On top, in the big frame decorated with very elegant woodcarving we see a verse of the Koran. The chains in the frame are very clear, this was a slave trader, without any doubt. The beautifully carved flowers are an indication that the family was very wealthy and important. At the other side of the street we see a quite similar door but with a very nice arch on top. The ones with the arches are younger then the straight ones, tells Shabaan. Slavery stopped here in 1873. Livingstone and the English were the ones who pushed the people to end this terribly period in history. Zanzibar had sadly enough the last slave market in the world.

Detail Arabic door with Koran inscriptions and chains.

 Elephant proof. From slaves to gold, in Stonetown it’s only a small step. Shabaan takes us to the Kiponda-district at the harbour. There we see totaly different doorways. Once Stonetown was divided in etnical and economical districts, that’s why you see in every part of the city different doors, they come in many shapes and sizes, Shabaan explains. In Kiponda lived the Indian Gujarati, who worked as gold smiths or jewel merchands. Gujarati doors have smaller sections they can fold, they ‘re quite sober and much heavier. They were like the doors of a safe, Shabaan smiles. Indian Punjabi also lived in Stone Town. On top of their doors you can often see a minaret. We recognise immediatly the Taj Mahal in it. The quite impressive big cupper pins comealso from India, they shipped them from their home towns where they put them on the doors to protect their homes from intrusive elephants. In Stone Town of course they are pure decoration.

Indian Gurajati doors you can find in the Kiponda district.

Shabaan takes us back to the Shagani district, to one of the most beautiful examples in the city, a heavy but very nicely decorated Arab door with Indian elements. It’s very old but incredibly well preserved. While we are taking pictures of the impressive art work, the Indian owner comes out unexpectedly. He says: 10 dollar for the picture please. For a second it sounds like he realy means it. But he starts laughing, gives us a small pat on the shoulders and disappears.It’s a playful statement, certainly in a city like Stone Town where people often try to make you pay for a picture of them.

Left side: Punjabi door with minaretform, Taj Mahal and 'elephantproof'   - Right side:  a beautiful Arabic door with Indian accents.



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