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Zanzibar: the island of spices and beaches

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The island of Zanzibar, also known by the name of Unguja, is the largest island of the archipelago of the same name which is also made up of the other two large islands of Pemba and Mafia and dozens of smaller islands. Zanzibar is located in the waters of the Indian ocean at a distance from the coast of Tanzania which at the closest point to the African continent is about 35 km.

The island covers an area of 1,666 sq km and is inhabited by about nine hundred thousand people. The island, located about 40 km north-east of Dar es Salaam, is arranged parallel to the African coast. It extends for about 85 km from north to south and at the widest point it is 30 km wide. Zanzibar is a flat island, its highest point does not exceed 200 meters in height.


Zanzibar was in the past an important commercial center for the ivory, clove and slave trade. The Arabs from the 11th century had commercial relations and founded colonies along the entire east coast of Africa. With the arrival of the Portuguese in 1499, the island of Zanzibar also became part of their trade routes. The Portuguese merely controlled the island’s trade, but it appears that they did not militarily occupy Zanzibar.

In the following years the Portuguese controlled commercial traffic from their fortress of Mombasa (Forte Jesus de Mombaça) built in 1593. It was only in 1698 with the loss of Mombasa, conquered by the Omani after a long siege lasting almost three years, that Portuguese control on Zanzibar ended. Subsequently Zanzibar was for about 200 years one of the main centers of the Omani empire and became its capital from 1840. In 1890 Zanzibar passed under British influence which ended only with independence in 1963.

Zanzibar is today a rainbow of humanity where the Islamic religion and the Swahili language dominate. But where the influences of cultures, customs and races from Africa, Asia and Europe are clearly seen. Famous in ancient times as the island of spices. Here in fact they were, and are still today, cultivated cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, cardamom, ginger, saffron, pepper and other types of spices.


Today touristically Zanzibar is known almost exclusively for its sea and its beaches. The island is characterized by a long series of white sandy beaches decorated with crystal clear sea and palm trees. In the warm waters of the island you have excellent opportunities for snorkelling, diving, deep sea fishing and water sports. The most attentive tourist will however be attracted by the colors of the population, by their jobs, by the children, by the poor houses, by the fishermen who repair their nets, by the colorful clothes of women. Among the most important activities practiced by the population there is fishing, agriculture and crafts, while some women are dedicated to the algae harvest.


The historical center of the city of Zanzibar which is known as “Stone Town”, has as its peculiar characteristics its narrow and winding streets, the inlaid portals, the wooden balconies, the lively markets and the colorful bazaars. This inhabited center is another interesting opportunity to admire the local population and understand the history of the island. In the first half of the nineteenth century the city became the fulcrum of the Omani empire, a thriving slave trade was taking place here. Slaves from Zanzibar were transported to Arabia and throughout Asia. In the historic city of Zanzibar you can see the ancient houses where slaves were kept before being sent to Arabia.

There is also a national park on the island, the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park. This park located in the central-southern part of the island, covers 50 sq km and includes the Jozani Forest in the hinterland and the Chwaka Bay lagoon. The park protects a forest area where animals such as monkeys (colobus and vervet monkeys), antelopes, parrots and other bird species live. Part of the park is along the coast where there is an area of mangrove forests.

The climate of Zanzibar.

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