Moroni feels like another world. It is a timeless place where the air is heavy with romanticised Arabia – a great introduction to the Comoros if you’ve just arrived. Wandering the narrow streets of the old Arab quarter, you’ll pass women in colourful wraps chatting on crumbling stone doorsteps, and grave groups of white-robed men whiling away the hours between prayers with games of dominoes played on smooth stone benches. Unfortunately, the place is quite dirty – throwing rubbish on the street is common practice, and the government has yet to figure out what to do with sewage and waste water. As a result, the odour emitting from these quaint streets can be rather disillusioning.
Moroni had its beginnings as the seat of an ancient sultanate that traded primarily with Zanzibar (in Tanzania). In Comorian, the name means ‘in the heart of the fire’, in reference to its proximity to Mt Karthala. At sunset Moroni harbour must be one of the most beautiful sights in the Indian Ocean. The fading orange light is reflected by the coral-walled Ancienne Mosquée du Vendredi (Old Friday Mosque), the whitewashed buildings of the seafront and the dozens of wooden boats moored between volcanic rock jetties. At dusk there are often hundreds of men and boys swimming here, with the giant silhouettes of fruit bats flapping overhead.