Zanzibar Town, sometimes called Zanzibar City, is situated about halfway along the west coast of Zanzibar Island. It has a population estimated at 205,870 in the 2002 national census, which makes it by far the largest settlement on the islands of Zanzibar, and the sixth largest in Tanzania. During the colonial period, before the development of towns such as Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and Mombasa, Zanzibar Town was the largest settlement in the whole of east Africa.

Zanzibar Town is divided into two sections by Creek Road, though the creek itself has now been reclaimed. On the west side is the ‘heart’ of Zanzibar Town: the evocative old quarter, usually called Stone Town. This is the most interesting section for visitors: many of the buildings here were constructed during the 19th century (although some date from before this time), when Zanzibar was a major trading centre and at the height of its power. The trade created wealth which in turn led to the construction of palaces, mosques and many fine houses. Discovering the architectural gems hidden along the tortuous maze of narrow streets and alleyways that wind though Stone Town is part of the town’s magic and mystery for many visitors. Aside from the souvenir tinga-tinga painting and beaded jewellery, it’s a scene virtually unchanged since the mid-19th century, when it was described by Burton in this chapter’s epigraph. 

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