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Spirit of Zanzibar

Zanzibar, tropical promise off the coast of Africa

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Zanzibar

just the name of this island awakens longings that only a few destinations are able to do. The archipelago off the coast of East Africa is beginning to open up to international tourism. But what constitutes the great magic, where does the secret of the unknown beauty lie?

The charm of Zanzibar lies in the mixture of its inhabitants, the turbulent history and the excellent location south of the equator. And all three factors are interrelated. Even stronger than living on the African mainland auf Zanzibar  different cultures together in a small space for almost 2000 years. Already since the year 2500 BC. the island trades with the pharaohs of Egypt. From the year 700 onwards, successive Arab, Persian and Indonesian immigrants settled, who still live together with the African population on the island today. In 1107, the mosque was the first Islamic building in Africa to be built. Later the Portuguese follow, conquer Zanzibar in 1503 and set up a trading post.

The tide turned again in 1698 when the island was taken over by the Sultanate of Oman. The sultan even moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar in 1840, after the central and later famous slave market for East Africa had been founded in 1811. Ships from all over the world anchored in the wide bay of the island capital of the same name until the 19th century. Ivory, slaves and spices from sub-Saharan Africa are handled here, Asian and Arab long-distance trade uses the port as a stopover; Zanzibar is becoming a major hub in Indian ocean trade. Indian and Arab traders are increasingly settling down alongside seafarers and craftsmen from overseas and controlling the business.

The image of the famous slave island of the 19th century still determines the image of Zanzibar today. Businessmen are also investing in clove plantations. The profits from spice exports and the slave trade turn the old town, in which only huts and wooden houses predominate, into a magnificent Stonetown. The sultan has the most modern building in East Africa erected on Zanzibar's waterfront, with electricity and an electrically operated elevator. This House of Wonders with a view over the wide bay still serves as one of the major tourist magnets.

When the island became an English protectorate in 1890, the slave market was banned. Then, in the second half of the last century, events took a turn for the worse. The heyday of the once prosperous island is long gone, the English released the island into independence in 1963, the African majority expelled parts of the Arab and Indian population before the island became part of Tanzania in 1964. To date, however, it has been able to maintain a semi-autonomous status. In 2000, Stowentown was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an outstanding example of the conflicts, harmonious coexistence and fusion of African, Arabic and Indian cultures over the centuries.

The architecture of the old town of Stonetown still reflects this synthesis of Arabic, Indian and black African influences; it is as multicultural as its residents. Mosques, churches and Hindu temples, African markets, colonial buildings and British trading houses, an Omani fort and carved wooden doors complement each other and make up the peaceful coexistence of Zanzibar's Swahili culture.

The island's most famous son, rock star Freddie Mercury, was born Farrokh Bulsara on September 5, 1946 into a Parsi family of Indian origin.

 

Many of the Zanzibar guests come by bush plane via Dar es Salaam to the island as an extension of a safari trip in the Serengeti. Active holidays on safari and relaxation on the island is usually the motto. Such an arrangement makes sense, since the Condor flies directly from Frankfurt once a week to "Kilimanjaro" in the Serengeti on the mainland of Tanzania as well as to Zanzibar. Both can therefore be combined very well. Although the inhabitants are mostly very poor and large parts of the island are hardly developed, the luxury hotel industry has successfully established itself.

The island's development into a modern destination began a few years ago with the investments of the Aga Khan. The old English governor's house in Stonetown has been converted into the five-star Serena Inn. The same patron recently refurbished the old beach promenade. Also in Stonetown is the famous Swahili House, which has been the first port of call for many Zanzibar explorers for generations as a hotel and restaurant. Freshly renovated, it now offers a new roof terrace with a beautiful view. The Four Seasons chain is planning a new building, the property on the middle section of the coast has already been purchased and the project planning is complete.

In the north of the island, the Kempinski Zamani Zanzibar Hotel reigns supreme. The resort offers near-perfect service, but suffers from a renovation backlog in individual rooms and shares its small beach with the neighboring Fairmont Hotel. The new resorts in the southeast of the island are more exclusive. First and foremost the new Baraza Resort and Spa, which in its generously proportioned 90-room complex is divided into individual villas and focuses on small families; Children are expressly welcome here.

There is a lot to discover in Zanzibar. The old slave market is historic but still provides a moving glimpse into the history of the island. The spice market enlivens Stonetown every day, people flock to the old market square from every alleyway to trade vanilla, cloves, cardamom or cinnamon. The old dhows pass by on the endlessly wide and white beaches until late in the evening. As part of a day trip, the entire island can be circumnavigated in these typical East African wooden sailing boats with the distinctive triangular sails. Children wave to the small boats from the beach while they dance to their local taarab music with its fast rhythms or practice acrobatic moves in the sand.

Zanzibar is a wonderful place that shows how people from different cultures live together peacefully in a small space and how foreign tourists are also welcome. When night falls, everyone meets at the evening food stalls on the new beach promenade with grilled fish, celebrate into the evening, marvel at the sunset, which is just crossing another dhow and make an appointment for the following day to enjoy the same spectacle again. In Zanzibar it's in the air: Take it easy!

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