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Zanzibar - Exotic Beauty and History

Updated on December 19, 2017

Zanzibar Sunset and Dhow

Zanzibar is a large tropical island - located just 6 degrees south of the equator - in the Indian Ocean. The main island of Unguja (aka Zanzibar) is some 20 miles wide and 60 miles long.

Even the name of Zanzibar is exotic. Zanzibar has been linked to Spices and Pirates as well as to the Slave Trade for centuries.

Zanzibar has wide sandy beaches lined with palm trees and dhows of ancient design still sail on the waters. Dhows have been in use for many many centuries on the Indian ocean.

Image Source - Zanzibar, Tanzania, Sunset and dhow

Princess Salme Said Ruete

Princess Salme aged 14 (1858)
Princess Salme aged 14 (1858)

The very first book I ever read about Zanzibar was called - Memoirs of an Arabian Princess of Oman and Zanzibar - the Extraordinary Life of a Muslim Princess between East and West The authors name was Emily Said Ruete.

This is Princess Salme at age 14. She wrote the book mentioned above. This photo would have been taken in 1858 since Salme was born in 1844 and died in 1924. When Salme grew up, she became pregnant by a neighbour - a German engineer named Rudolph Heinrich Ruete. They both left Zanzibar in 1866, Salme was baptised as a christian and took the name of Emily. As Emily Ruete, she wrote a book of her life in Zanzibar (as mentioned above) - Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar - first published in Germany in 1886.

Salme's father (Sultan Said of Zanzibar and Oman) died in 1856 when she was 8 years old. The next 4 Sultans of Zanzibar were her older brothers. In her book Salme mentioned several of her sisters but only 2 of her brothers - both of whom were Sultans of Zanzibar.

Another of Salme's older brothers (Turki) became Sultan of Oman and the present Sultans of Oman are direct descendants from his branch of the family.

Salme tried not to get caught up in the battle between her brothers over who would become the next Sultan. I think this is probably why she sought out the company of her German neighbour - the engineer Heinrich Ruete.

"Sayyida Salme's writings encompass her experiences and observations of life in Zanzibar, Syria and Germany; her struggles as a minor pawn in diplomatic battles over world trade and the Scramble for Africa; and her life as a German citizen during the Franco-Prussian War and the First World War. " Festival of the Dhow Countries

Image Source - This is Princess Salme at 14 years of age.

Zanzibar Islands

Zanzibar Islands
Zanzibar Islands

Zanzibar is an autonomous region of Tanzania. It consists of 2 large islands in the Indian Ocean just off the coast of Tanzania, These islands are called Zanzibar (Unguja) and Pemba. There are also a number of smaller islets as well. The capital of this autonomous region is Zanzibar Town. Within Zanzibar Town is the ancient Stone Town - now under UNESCO protection.

There is a third island as well - called Mafia island - but it is governed from the mainland (Dar es Salaam) and it mostly attracts tourists who wish to go swimming, scuba diving and fishing.

Image source - World Atlas

Stonetown, Zanzibar

Stonetown, Zanzibar
Stonetown, Zanzibar

This is Stonetown in Zanzibar town. Stonetown was the original city that was built out of stone, back in the days of pirates and slaves.

It is now being preserved and has been under UNESCO protection since the year 2000.

Image source - Filmapia - Scouting for Movie Locations

StoneTown, Zanzibar

Stonetown and a dhow
Stonetown and a dhow

There are some very interesting places to visit in StoneTown.

Such as Dr Livingstone's House and the House of Wonders.

The House of Wonders is so called because it was built in 1883 for the Sultan and it was the first building in Zanzibar to be wired up for electricity and also the first building to have an elevator installed. The House of Wonders is now used as a Museum of Stonetown and of the Swahili culture and coastline.

Dr Livingston's house in Zanzibar was built in 1860 and was used by David Livingston as a base for the preparations of his final exploration trip in 1866. It is now occupied by the Zanzibar Tourist Corporation.

Image Source - Zanzibar Travel Blog

Shopping in StoneTown

StoneTown, Zanzibar
StoneTown, Zanzibar

StoneTown, Zanzibar, 2005

Prison Island, Zanzibar

Prison Island, Zanzibar
Prison Island, Zanzibar

This is Changuu Island, just off the coast of StoneTown. It used to be called Prison Island because back in the olden days, the slaves were imprisoned here and also quarantined here whenever necessary.

Now it is a refuge for Giant Sea Tortoises. The island is a short boat ride from StoneTtown, where you can go scuba diving and snorkeling.

Image Source - More details and photos of Prison Island

Chumbe Island, Zanzibar

Chumbe Island Lighthouse
Chumbe Island Lighthouse

Chumbe Island is a Reserve and as such, no one actually lives there.


If you like climbing, there are 131 steps to the top of the Chumbe Lighthouse - built by the Sultan of Zanzibar in 1904 (probably one of Salme's Brothers),

You can also

go diving and snorkeling

walk through the rainforest

relax on the beach

Image Source - Chumbe Island Lighthouse - Built in 1904

Faroukh Balasara from Zanzibar
Faroukh Balasara from Zanzibar

Faroukh Balsara

Not many people are aware that the great singer of the rock group Queen - was born and raised in Zanzibar.

His real name was Faroukh Balsara. But he was much better known as Freddie Mercury.

Faroukh's family were of Persian (Iranian) ancestry and their religion was originally Zoroastrianism

The Untold Story of Freddie Mercury

A 5 part documentary about Farroukh Bulsara - showing some scenes of Zanzibar - before he became Freddie Mercury.

Have you ever been to Zanzibar?

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    • skiesgreen2 profile image

      Norma Holt 3 years ago from Australia

      Certainly enjoyed the information here. No, I have not been to Africa at all and was surprised to learn that Livingstone has been to this part. I thought he went to the Congo. It just goes to show we can learn new things everyday and I really appreciate this documentary and others like it.

    • audrey07 profile image

      audrey07 5 years ago

      I haven't been to Zanzibar before. Heard about it and but never really know much about the place. This is a great lens to help me learn a bit more.

    • profile image

      Auntie-M LM 5 years ago

      I was fortunate to have visited Zanzibar many years ago. Our guide took us through windy streets and orchards and fragrant delights that I still remember. Quite a place.

    • profile image

      sherioz 5 years ago

      Well, I'll have to add this to my "Africa visits for the future" list. Never imagined that Freddy Mercury was from Zanzibar.

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      A beautiful exotic place. Stunning photos and interesting story about the princess.

    • Riosamba Gallery profile image

      Riosamba Gallery 5 years ago

      A lovely story of Zanzibar, if I have the time I would certainly visit this exotic place.

    • bearlane profile image

      bearlane 5 years ago

      looks nice. I wish to travel the world, this would be one of my stops

    • samsipet profile image

      samsipet 5 years ago

      Although I heard a word Zanzibar before, I never knew that place really existed. Nice info!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Can't say I have, though it looks like a lovely place!

    • caffimages profile image

      caffimages 5 years ago

      I didn't know much about Zanzibar, or that Freddy Mercury was from there. I enjoyed reading this lens. thank you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This just goes to show you that when you the take time to view new lenses you will always learn something different and interesting. Like "whashappenen" Zanzibar!! Thank you for the contribution.