Other places of interest in Zanzibar Town
Although the following places aren't major sights in themselves, you'll probably find yourself walking nearby as you visit some of the more important palaces and museums, and the following background information will be useful.
Mnazi Moja sports field
Opposite the museum, on the other side of Creek Road, is Mnazi Moja sports field. (Mnazi Moja
means 'one coconut tree'.) This area used to be a swamp at the end of the creek that separated the Stone Town peninsula from the rest of the island. The land was reclaimed and converted to a sports field during the colonial period, hence the English-style cricket pavilion in the corner. In the 1920s, part of the sports ground was set aside for exclusive use by members of the English Club; it contained tennis courts, a croquet lawn and the only golf course on the island. Today, Mnazi Moja
is used mainly for football matches and, although the creek itself has been reclaimed, the sports field is still prone to flooding in the rainy season.
The road leading southeast out of the town (now called Nyerere Road) was originally built by Bishop Steere of the Universities Mission in Central Africa as a causeway across the swamp. Today it is a pleasant avenue lined with giant casuarina trees.
The People's Gardens
The People's Gardens are on Kaunda Road, at the southern end of Stone Town, near the main hospital. They were originally laid out by Sultan Barghash for use by his harem. Many of the trees and bushes in the garden, including eucalyptus, coffee, tea and cocoa, were added by Sir John Kirk, the British consul on Zanzibar from 1873 to 1887. The gardens were given to the people of Zanzibar by Sultan Hamoud on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1899 and they were renamed Victoria Gardens. The building in the centre of the gardens was called Victoria Hall. It was built over the baths of the harem and used as the Chamber of the Legislative Council from 1926 to 1964. After the revolution, the hall and gardens fell into disrepair. They were renovated in 1996, with help from the German government, and Victoria Hall is now rather ignominiously the offices of the Zanzibar Sewerage and Sanitation Project.
The large house opposite the gardens, on the south side of Kaunda Road, was built in 1903 as the official British Residency. After the 1964 Revolution, when the Victoria Gardens were renamed the People's Gardens, the old British Residency became the State House – the official residence of the president. The building next door to the State House was the embassy of the Soviet Union, but is now the offices of the Zanzibar Investment Promotions Agency (ZIPA), a government agency set up to attract foreign business capital to Zanzibar.
The big tree
Just west of the Old Dispensary, about 100m along Mizingani Road, is a large tree originally planted by Sultan Khalifa in 1911. Known simply as the Big Tree (or in Swahili as Mtini
– the place of the tree), it has been a major landmark for many years. It can be seen on numerous old photos and etchings of Zanzibar Town viewed from the sea, and is still clearly visible on the seafront from ships approaching the port. Today, traditional dhow builders use the tree as a shady 'roof' for their open-air workshop.
Next to the Fort, the road runs through a tunnel under a large building that is the island's orphanage. Built in the late 19th century, the building was used as a club for English residents until 1896, and then as an Indian school until 1950. There is a small craft shop on the ground floor opposite the gardens selling pictures and curios made by the orphans and other local artisans.
The swimming pool at the Tembo Hotel is open to non-guests for US$3, all day. At the Bwawani Hotel, swimming costs less than US$1, but the pool is only half full, of green and slimy water, so this is not at all recommended. There's also a pool at the Serena Hotel though this is reserved for hotel guests only.
If you would like to learn a few words (or even more) of the local language, the taasisi kiswahili institute (PO Box 146; 024 2230724) inside the state university on vuga road offers lessons. Classes are normally 08.00 to noon and cost us$4 per hour, or us$80 for a week's course.
Single lessons away from the institute, and longer courses, which include lodgings in the house of a teacher or local family, are also available.