Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Zanzibar Historic Housing Photo Tour

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman, except for third photo from the top, taken by "Baba Askofu."

Several days ago my family and I took a break from the daily grind of Tanzanian-Michigan church politics (which, to be quite honest, is not really that much of a grind) and went to the island of Zanzibar. Aside from relaxing on the beach, I knew there was one place I just HAD to visit: Stone Town. This is an internationally-recognized historic site, and the more I can learn about preservation of historic houses, the more I can bring that experience back home to NoMi.

The second picture from the top is of a large building that straddles a main commercial corridor in Stone Town. There is a one-way sign, as the passageway is too narrow for more than one car at a time. But, like many traffic laws in Tanzania, the direction in which cars are SUPPOSED to go is really more like a suggestion - and not a strong one at that. One has to wonder how many head-on collisions there are here.

Our tour guide said that some buildings were constructed as early as the 15- and 1600's, although most research I've done since then indicates he may have been embellishing things. Still, buildings standing from as long ago as 1780 are quite impressive. The MOST impressive aspect, though, was...

...the doors, often referred to as "Arab doors," they were designed by Yemeni and Indian traders. It's been said that the ornate doors were so prized that people would buy those FIRST and then build their house around that. I'm standing in front of one such door in the last photo above, and below are some shots of what passed for a home security system when this house was built. The spikes were meant to keep out elephants, rhinos, and other animals.

Zanzibar is about 98% Muslim at this point, so the mosques and other similar doors aren't decorated with the same imagery. Still, the woodwork is nothing short of amazing.

It was also common in the early 1900's for builders to stamp the construction date in the stone above the doors. 1933 was the LATEST year of new construction that was readily apparent from the street.

Here was the oldest-looking building we saw. Our guide said that no building can be demolished without going through an extensive application process with the local historical district. (Despite the fact that, according to some sources, as much as 75% of the buildings are considered "deteriorating.") When I asked what happens to people who demolish buildings WITHOUT going through this process, I was told, "The penalties are most severe." Sure sounds like an improvement over the lack of protection for some historic buildings in Minneapolis.

Among the famous people to have called Stone Town home are Freddie Mercury of Queen, and abolitionist David Livingstone. The last active slave trading market was on Zanzibar, and a church has been built over that site. At the foot of the altar, there is a marker where the whipping post once was. Powerful stuff.

And here we are, back where we started, but on the other side of the first building. I couldn't help but wonder, what housing, and what historic features will be standing in NoMi a hundred and two hundred years from now? Will the homes built at the turn of the century or before still be standing? Will the houses we're building as new construction still be there?

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