The island of Zanzibar is steeped in history. From the days Omani rulers governed the island, to its famed slave trade terminal and the Portuguese wars, the island occupies a special place in history books. To mirror this historical era, historians have struggled hard to record the island’s tumultuous past, and its museums are rich with documented facts, specimens and artefacts that depict the period. Here are the top 5 museums that are evidence to this fact:
The Prince Salme Museum tells the incredible story of a 19th-century feminist. It is located at Emerson, Hurumzi. She was the daughter of an Omani Sultan and was an active social worker who aggressively campaigned for women’s rights, poverty and inequality in Zanzibar society, and also took great care of slave children. In the Omani culture, children sired by Arab men and female slaves were considered legitimate. When Salme was 22, she eloped with a German merchant.
The Peace Memorial Museum or Beit El Amani is located to the south of Stone Town. It features a transparent dome, white walls, and Arab-style windows. The building is a cross between a mosque and a church. The museum exhibits have been moved to the House of Wonders, and the place now acts as a library.
Initially built in the 1890s as a residential palace for members of the Sultan’s family, the Palace Museum is dedicated to the history of the Sultans of Zanzibar. The ground floor stores recordings of critical periods of the sultanate from 1830 to 1870 and this is depicted as one of the most prosperous periods as trade between Zanzibar, and the external world flourished, and many treaties were signed.
House of Wonders or Beit al Ajaib is the tallest building in Stone Town and rises over several stories. In 2002 it opened its doors as the Museum of History and Culture and contains some fascinating exhibits and artefacts. It is also the first building in East Africa to have a lift and electricity. If you’re looking for Zanzibar and Swahili culture, this is the place to visit as it tells about the trade on the Swahili coast, the maritime history, and the Portuguese explorations.
The Museum of Natural History is a sight to behold! Featuring some stunning stuffed and jarred specimens that include a dodo’s and large tortoises’ bones. The Museum is also home to the massive live tortoises that live in a large cage. They are similar to the giant tortoises found on Prison island. If you cannot afford a trip to Prison Island, then the Museum of Natural History is a good substitute for seeing the giant tortoises.