Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous partof the United Republic of Tanzania, inEast Africa. It comprises the ZanzibarArchipelago in the Indian Ocean, 25– 50 kilometres (16–31 mi) off the coastof the mainland, and consists of numer-ous small islands and two large ones:Unguja (the main island, informallyreferred to as Zanzibar), and Pemba.Other nearby island countries and ter-ritories include Comoros and Mayotteto the south, Mauritius and Réunionto the far East, and the Seychelles Is-lands about 1500km north. Zanzibarwas once a separate state with a longtrading historywithin the Arabworld; it unitedwith Tangan-yika to formTanzania in1964 and stillenjoys a highdegree of au-tonomy withinthe union. Thecapital of Zan-zibar, locatedon the islandof Unguja, isZanzibar City,and its historic center, known as StoneTown, is a World Heritage Site.
Zanzibar's local people are an incred-ible mixture of ethnic backgrounds, in-dicative of her colourful history. Zanzi-baris speak Swahili (known locally asKiswahili), a language which is spokenextensively in East Africa. Many be-lieve that the purest form is spokenin Zanzibar as it is the birth place ofthe language. Zanzibar's most famousevent is the Zanzibar InternationalFilm Festival, also known as the Fes-tival of the Dhow Countries. EveryJuly, this event showcases the best ofthe Swahili Coast arts scene, includingZanzibar's favourite music, Taarab.Important architectural features inStone Town are theLivingstone house,the Guliani Bridge,the House of Won-ders, and the Per-sian baths.
It may not have a particularly roman-tic name, but Stone Town is the oldcity and cultural heart of Zanzibar,little changed in the last 200 years. Itis a place of winding alleys, bustlingbazaars, mosques and grand Arabhouses whose original owners viedwith each other over the extrava-gance of their dwellings. This one-up-manship is particularly reected in thebrass-studded, carved, wooden doors- there are more than 500 differentexamples of this handiwork. You canspend many idle hours and days justwandering through the fascinatinglabyrinth of narrow streets and alley-ways.Most of the houses that can be seentoday were built in the 19th centurywhen Zanzibar was one of the mostimportant trading centres in the IndianOcean region. The coraline rock ofZanzibar was a good building mate-rial, but it is also easily eroded. This isevident by the large number of hous-es that are in a bad state of repair.Several buildingshave already beenrenovated and theStone Town Conser-vation Authority has
been established toco-ordinate the res-toration of the townto its original magnicence. As a re-sult of sensible policy, nearly all of themajor hotels built in Stone Town arehoused in renovated buildings. Pic-tured below is a typical winding alleyin Stone Town, where it is quite easyto get lost.