Zanzibar - what an image the name conjures: the aroma of spices, Arabic merchants' houses crowding in on narrow mysterious alleys overhung with a myriad of electric cables, finely carved ancient doors with rows of brass studs around which a builder would construct the rest of the house. Possibly the least architecturally pleasing house is the one in which Freddy Mercury grew up, a yellow 1930s style block of apartments but still a shrine to devoted fans of course.
Control passed from the Portuguese in 1698 to that of the Sultan of Oman where it remained until the 1890s when it became a British protectorate. The sultans lived in their splendid palace with wonderful sea views until independence in 1963 when shortly afterwards violent anti-Arab revolution led to Zanzibar being absorbed into the newly named Tanzania (combining the names of Tanganyika/Zanzibar).
The town teems with human activity, especially around the port where daily ferries from Dar es Salaam and the occasional cruise ship disgorge their human cargo creating traffic chaos at peak times. Dress code ranges from full niqab burka for women and long spotless white dishdasha robes for the men on the one hand to beachwear on quite a few insensitive and disrespectful young tourists at the other end of the spectrum.
The beach front is dominated by the massive Sultan's palace, the 16th century fort and an collection of exotic hotels converted from earlier buildings.
And finally as promised a few words about what was the last open slave market in the world only closed down by the British in 1873, almost in my grandfather's lifetime. Conditions in the market, now a museum, in cramped underground cells without water, food or toilets are unimaginable today and perhaps those that died or were thrown overboard on dhows heading here from the mainland may have been the luckier ones. This is because survivors were lined up in order of size, tied to a tree and whipped with a stinging branch to test their mettle until they cried out. Those that did not fetched a higher price. A large Anglican Church built in 1885 now stands on the site and was full to bursting for Sunday service on our visit.
However, it is worthwhile noting comments made by the Sultan's daughter in her book, 'Memoirs of an Arabian Princess' that once the slaves were released in large numbers, they were left to fend for themselves. The 'anti-slave apostles', as she refers to the British abolishinists, had no follow-up plan to deal with the resulting chaos with no work available, a disinclination on the part of the released slaves to take up work again, and disruption to those who had depended on their labour.
A moving memorial has been created in the garden, a small pit containing four life size half figures manacled together in iron chains.