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Zanzibar Door

Monuments of Old Swahili Culture

Located off the East African coast, the isles of Zanzibar (assumedly "coast of the blacks") were a much dreaded center of slave trade between the 17th and the 19th century. During the 19th century, Zanzibar gained wealth from clove and spice plantations and was a center of caravan trade reaching as far as the Congo.

The Zanzibar culture is strongly affected by Arabic, Indian and other Asian influences from the tradesmen who settled down on the island. During the colonial era Western influences were added. This mixture of different cultures produced the unique Swahili culture.

Especially in the oldest quarter of Zanzibar City, Stone Town, you still can find over 2000 historical buildings made of coral stone walls and mangrove wood representing the different cultural influences. Stone Town takes its name from the stone houses built in a time where everywhere around people lived in bamboo huts. The city was founded over 1000 years ago and is today a World Heritage site.

The double-door entrances to these two-storey buildings with an inner courtyard are made of heavy wood; these "Zanzibar Doors" are adorned with detailed carvings and are often decorated with metal fittings.

The Zanzibar door in the Museum clearly shows Arabic influence in the patterns of its carvings. As customary in Islam the door shows no figurative representations.

The Zanzibar Doors, increasingly threatened by deterioration and plundering, are recently restored professionally with the aid of Italian aid workers.