The Maruhubi Palace is on the coast, about 4km north of Zanzibar Town. It was built in 1882 for Sultan Barghash (sultan from 1870 to 1888) and at one time he reputedly kept 100 women here: one official wife and 99 concubines. (The sultan himself lived at the palace in Zanzibar Town.) The palace's name comes from the original owner of the estate who sold the land to Sultan Barghash.
The palace was built with coral stone and wood, and was reported to have been one of the most ornate on the island. Large walls were built around the palace grounds, thought to have been inspired by the park walls seen by Sultan Barghash on his visit to England in 1875. Unfortunately, the palace was destroyed by a fire in 1899. All that remains today is the great pillars which supported the upper storey, and the Persian-style bath-house. The separate bathrooms for the women, and the large bath for the sultan's own use, can still be seen. The original water tanks, now overgrown with lilies, also remain in the grounds of the palace. To the north of the pillars, at the back of the beach, is a small set of arches and steps; this was part of the palace's reception area. (The House of Wonders in Zanzibar Town contains a photo of the palace taken at the end of the 19th century when it was still in use.)
To reach the palace, take the main road north out of Zanzibar Town towards Bububu. Pass Livingstone House on your right and, after a few kilometres, the Maruhubi Palace is signposted on your left. Dala-dalas on Route B run between the town and Bububu village, past the palace entrance gate.
Just north of Maruhubi is the ruined Mtoni Palace, which was built for Sultan Said (sultan from 1804 to 1856) on the site of an older house believed to have belonged to Saleh bin Haramil, the Arab trader who imported the first cloves to Zanzibar. Mtoni, which means 'place by the river', is the oldest palace on Zanzibar.
One of Sultan Said's daughters, Salme, later eloped with a German trader who lived and worked in Zanzibar in the 1860s. In her book about her life on Zanzibar. Salme describes Mtoni Palace in the 1850s: it had a large courtyard where gazelles, peacocks, ostriches and flamingos wandered around, a large bath-house at one end and the sultan's quarters at the other, where he lived with his principal wife, an Omani princess whose name was Azze.
Salme records that over 1,000 people were attached to the sultan's court in the palace. She describes how the sultan would pace up and down on a large round tower overlooking the sea, where he could see his fleet anchored off the shore. If visitors came by boat, he would greet them on the steps of his palace as there was no landing pier. Salme and the other princesses were carried out to their boats on chairs.
Salme goes on to describe her own return visit to Zanzibar in 1885. The palace at Mtoni had been abandoned and was already in ruins. Today, only the main walls and parts of the roof remain. The palace was turned into a warehouse during World War I, and evidence of the alterations can still be seen.
To reach the palace, turn left off the main road onto a dirt track, about 2km north of Maruhubi. There is a small signpost.
Beit el Ras Palace
Further north along the coast, this palace was built for Sultan Said as an 'overflow' house for his children and their servants, when Mtoni Palace became too crowded (see the Wives and Children of Sultan Said box opposite). Building started in 1847 but was not completed by the time of Said's death in 1856. Sultan Majid (Said's successor) did not continue the project and much of the stone from the palace was used during the construction of the Zanzibar railroad (described below). The remaining ruins were abandoned and finally demolished in 1947 to make room for a school and teacher-training centre. Today, only the giant porch of the original palace remains, with high arches and steps leading up one side. The palace is in the grounds of the training centre, now called the Nkrumah Teacher Training College (Chuo Cha Ualimu Nkrumah), and is reached by turning off the main road a few kilometres beyond Mtoni. Beit el Ras means 'the palace on the headland' and from the porch you get good views over this part of the coast and out towards the group of small islands off Zanzibar Town.
North of Beit el Ras, this 'palace' was built in Arabic style by the British authorities in 1915. In the village of Kibweni, its official title was Beit el Kassrusaada (Palace of Happiness), although this name seems to have been forgotten. Sultan Khalifa II (sultan from 1911 to 1960) used the palace as a country residence. After the revolution it was taken over by the government and is still used as an official residence. It is not open to the public.
About 10km north of Zanzibar Town, on the coast near the village of Chuini, lie the ruins of Chuini Palace. (Chuini means 'place of the leopard'.) It was built for Sultan Barghash, added to by Sultan Ali bin Said, and destroyed by fire in 1914. The ruins are on private land and cannot be visited.