Stone Town’s Architecture

Stone Town’s architecture is a fusion of Arabic, Indian, European and African influences. Arab buildings are often square, with two or three storeys. Rooms line the outer walls, allowing space for an inner courtyard and verandas, and cooling air circulation. Indian buildings, also several storeys high, generally include a shop on the ground floor and living quarters above, with ornate facades and balconies. A common feature is the baraza, a stone bench facing onto the street that serves as a focal point around which townspeople meet and chat.

The most famous feature of Zanzibari architecture is the carved wooden door, a symbol of wealth and status, and often the first part of a house to be built (or sometimes older than the house, having been moved from a previous location).

Some Zanzibari doors are centuries old, others simply decades old, while others are relatively recent; there's still a thriving door-carving industry today.

Generally, Arabian-styled doors have a square frame with a geometrical shape, and ‘newer’ doors – many of which were built towards the end of the 19th century and incorporate Indian influences – often have semicircular tops and intricate floral decorations.

Doors may be decorated with carvings of passages from the Quran, and other commonly seen motifs include images representing items desired in the household, such as a fish (expressing the hope for many children) or the date tree (a symbol of prosperity). Some doors have large brass spikes, which are a tradition from India, where spikes protected doors from being battered down by elephants.