The history of Zanzibar has been influenced by many nations, including the Arabia, Persia, India, Portugal, Britain and local tribes from the African mainland. This is clearly noticed in the architecture. Stone Town is a place of narrow lanes, intricately carved wooden doors, towers, terraces and fabulous mosques. In 1964 Zanzibar united with Tanganyika to form the present day Tanzania, although it still enjoys a high degree of autonomy within the unified state. Zanzibar is an archepelago of islands in the Indian Ocean that lie 30km off the coast of Tanzania. The two largest islands are Unguja (usually referred to as 'Zanzibar') and Pemba. Zanzibar Town (including it's old quarter of Stone Town) is the capital of Zanzibar, and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Tourism and spices are Zanzibar's main industries are spices and tourism. It is often still referred to as the Spice Islands due to the production of cloves, nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon.
Important cultural considerations
Zanzibar has a long history of religious tolerance and although the islands are 99% Muslim, alcohol and tobacco are freely available. Visitors are, however, requested to show consideration for the culture of Zanzibar by dressing modestly and refraining from public displays of affection. When walking in towns and villages, women should wear clothes that cover their shoulders and knees. Men should not walk bare-chested or wearing swimming trunks. Many visitors refuse to cover up and this causes offense and often outrage amongst the local population, even though these feelings may not be directly expressed. As one sign says, “Short skirts are like nude” On the beaches swimwear is acceptable, but topless sunbathing is not.
During the fast of Ramadan, it is considered the height of bad manners to eat and drink in public places or while walking down the street. Non- Muslims should not enter mosques unless specifically invited to do so. Only take pictures of people if you have their permission, and don’t peer too obviously through the doorways of private houses in Stone Town.