Zanzibar has a very rich history and was once one of the most important areas in East Africa. Following Vasco de Gama’s visit in 1499, Zanzibar was ruled by the Portuguese and remained this way for almost two centuries.
Zanzibar, which means “coast of blacks” is an archipelago situated 16-31mi (25-50km) east of mainland Tanzania. The archipelago consists of numerous small islands and two large ones: the main island is Unjuga, which is commonly referred to as Zanzibar itself, and the other is Pemba, which is known as the “Green Island”. The Zanzibar archipelago is characterized by the beautiful sandy beaches, which line its perimeter. As a former centre of the slave and spice trades, it is infused with African, Arabic, European and Indian influences.
Zanzibar has a fascinating history, stretching back to the start of the first millennium, when Bantu-speaking Africans travelled across from the mainland. Between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, the Zanzibar archipelago had come into its own, with Arabian and Persian trade links bringing significant money into the area. Zanzibar had become a major trading hub, supplying gold, ivory, slaves and wood to places as distant as India, while importing spices, textiles and glassware.
When the Portuguese arrived in the early sixteenth century, they temporarily interrupted the golden age, taking control of both Zanzibar and Pemba. However, their reign did not last, and by the early nineteenth century, Omani Arabs had gained control of the region. Trade once again flourished, with cloves, slavery and ivory the main commodities. It’s telling that by 1840, trade was thriving to the degree that the Sultan of Oman chose to relocate his court to Zanzibar from the Persian Gulf.
In 1873, the prominent slave trade was abolished, and by 1890, Omani sultans ruled under a British protectorate. This lasted until December 1963, when Zanzibar regained its independence. However, only a month later, the Arab ruling elite were overthrown by an African majority in a horrific revolution leading to several thousand deaths. In April 1964, a republic was established, as the presidents of Zanzibar and Tanganyika, or more accurately, was subsumed into Tanzania, of which Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region.
Zanzibar (Unguja Island)
- The Zanzibar Archipelago, located in the Indian Ocean 15 miles off the coast of Tanzania, is a breathtaking spot to escape from the world. You'll enjoy clear, turquoise-blue water, shallow sandbars perfect for wading, and many small, nearly deserted islands virtually unvisited by tourists.