Zanzibar: “zayn za’l barr”, this island is beautiful.

Zanzibar: “zayn za’l barr”, this island is beautiful.

The British explorer Burton stated that “Zanzibar” comes from the Arabic “zayn za’l barr”, which literally means “this is a beautiful island”, even if less romantic leads derive its name from the Persian “Zangh” (black ) and “bar” (earth), which comes from the phrase “land of the blacks”. Its history has been forged on the encounter between different cultures: Assyrians, Sumerians, Egyptians, Phoenicians in ancient times, and the Portuguese, Dutch, German and British at the time of the adventures of trade and exploration in the modern age.


The oldest building, the mosque of Kimikazi (year 1107), however, says that the first to arrive were the Shirazis of Persia who migrated thanks to the monsoon, with their merchant vessels laden with pearls, textiles and Chinese porcelain, and on their return, brought with them tortoiseshell, ebony, ivory, spices. Later in the seventh century they began trading gold, rhinoceros horns, leopard skins and slaves with the Bantu population.

Thanks to the power of trade Zanzibar grew for several centuries, but declined with the Portuguese domination (XV / XVII century), until the Omanis conquered the whole region. The local culture and language, Swahili, infact, were influenced by the Arab world, as well as the Islamic tradition (90% of the population).

However, these rulers were also based on the export of slaves to the plantations. The Treaty of Moresby (September 1822), under the control of the United States and Great Britain outlawed the slave trade, even if the Africans continued to be sold, killed or imprisoned and slavery lasted up to British rule after the First World War II.

Together with slavery and ivory, Zanzibar was the world’s leading producer of cloves, and over time it became also for other types of spices: pepper, ginger, cumin and cinnamon. So Zanzibar, called “Spice Islands”, which enriched the country, became a point of passage of world trade, thanks to the perfect geo – location.

 The buildings and the palaces featuring Stone Town, show us the the extravagance of the Sultans. In the 1883 the Sultan Barghash, trying to emulate the opulence of Indian palaces, commissioned the Beit el-Ajaib, the House of Wonders (“House of Wonders”), the first building in Zanzibar to have electric light . Barghash introduced other innovations, such as the first clean water system, electric lights in the streets of the city, new roads and a police force. Other buildings were built by the British and prosperous businessmen  Indians.

The explorers in a unknown and dangerous land.

Zanzibar was chosen as the starting point of the great explorations of the African continent. Let’s see who, in spite of the many dangers, decided to venture into such uncharted territories.

Johann Krapf, a German missionary, arrived in Zanzibar in 1844, was the first European to see Mount Kenya. Johann Rebbman, missionary and colleague Johann Krapf, the first European to see the Kilimanjaro. Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke, the British, who led the expedition of the British Royal Geographical Society in East Africa in search of the source of the Nile, arrived in 1857 to build their base on the island. Dr David Livingstone in 1871 from Stone Town, began his expedition. You can visit his house, while the National Museum can be seen his medicine chest and correspondence. Stanley Also used it in 1871 before setting out on one of history’s famous searches, culminating in Stanley’s legendary phrase “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”.


On 10 December 1963, following the elections, the Afro-Shirazi Party ‘(ASP) has won a majority of the popular vote, but despite this, the power was held by a coalition of two parties supported by the British. Zanzibar became a Constitutional Monarchy. In the same year, Karume and Tanganyika Julius Nyerere signed an Act of Union between Zanzibar and Tanganyika to create the United Republic of Tanzania. At this time, there was a growing movement for independence from colonialism and its ties in East Africa, with the independence of Tanganyika in 1961, Uganda in 1962 and Kenya in 1963.

Unfortunately, a revolution in 1964, reversed again the situation: the rebels won and the sultan and the monarchy were overthrown. The former Ugandan military John Okello, a leader of the revolution gave the power to Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume, the Afro-Shirazi Party leader (ASP), socialist-inspired and made to flee from Zanzibar many Indians and Arabs because of the violence of the militias. There were many economic repercussions, including the closure of the bank Jetha Lila, Indian Property. Karume was elected the first president of the new “People’s Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba”.

But after the establishment of the United Republic continued their rivalry. The two major parties in the archipelago, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and the Civic United Front (CUF) in Pemba, clashed in a particularly violent during the elections of 1995. On the eve of the elections, the people of Pemba were victims of ethnic violence. The elections of 2000 were the prelude to the violence that erupted in Pemba in 2001. The climate reset did not solve the problems esietenti that eistono utt’oggi. As I witnessed in October 2012. Zanzibar became increasingly Islamist and a growing demand for independence from Tanzania.


– Islamic law allowed the sultans to have up to four wives, and their wealth permitted to exercise this privilege, growing up many children. These practices ended with the succession of Harab Khalifa Bin Sultan in 1911. The harem and concubines were discontinued and were political Reforms Introduced with increasingly democratic representation until the Sultan was a constitutional monarch without major legislative or executive powers.

– The stories of slaves, harems, princesses and palace intrigues gave rise to fantastic and legendary novels as the exploits of Sindbad the sailor of Baghdad of “The Thousand and One Nights“.

Freddy Mercury, lead singer of Queen, was born in Stone Town 5 September 1946. In the city center there is a restaurant with his name and a building that is presented as the house where he was born. In his honor was also baptized a whale isopode coral island Bawe: the Circolana mercuryi.


2 responses to “Zanzibar: “zayn za’l barr”, this island is beautiful.

  1. The hustle and bustle, the giving and receiving all seem to cause us to take our eyes off of the true meaning.
    It seems sometimes people are looking for that something extra to
    pull the look of a room in their home together.
    For many reasons this group are the ones that eat of out boxes and bags.

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