Built by Sultan Barghash in 1880 as a day retreat for him and a place to house some of his many concubines, this palace had large Persian baths, the only part of the structure left with a roof. It burned down in 1899. Located on the Bububu road, just outside of town, it’s a popular first stop on the way to Spice Tour. The gardens still have coconut trees and there are old pools full of lily pads, leftover columns and wandering cows. It’s a pretty site on the ocean.
These ruins are the mangled and sometimes repaired remains of Sultan Said’s main residence. It is said that he spent three or four days at Mtoni and split the remainder of the week among his many other plantations and palaces, and that Mtoni was clearly his favourite. His daughter Salme described it as nothing short of Eden: brimming with flowers and peacocks, close to the ocean, full of well-cared-for people, and surrounded by large trees.
The ruins are now in an odd state. It is obvious that various repairs have been attempted over the years, but the only solid wall at present is the front wall that looks more like one end of a warehouse (which it was used for during World War I). The Palace, at one time, had many flights of stairs, courtyards, bedrooms and baths. Look in the back for many hallways and rooms with walls that still have the built-in alcoves. There are baths that you can enter but watch out for bats. This is the house where the Sultan kept the better part of his harem. Sometimes there’s a keeper who will sign your receipt. He’ll show you around but he was not able to answer any of our questions that were posed in Kiswahili.
Kidichi is a village in the heart of the spice plantations and it is home to bath ruins but this time the baths were built in 1850 by Sultan Said for his Persian wife, Sherehezade, also known as Binte Irich Mizra or Schesade. At Bububu center take a right at the sign that reads Kizimbani and carry on up the road until the whitewashed baths appear at the top of the hill. The baths are the only ones of their kind on the island, where visitors can see the Persian detailing on the inner walls. In strict following of the Muslim faith it is considered sacrilege to create images of anything living, including animals and people.
The Kidichi bath ruins are unusual in that they exhibit interesting and obvious portrayals of birds and flowers in the bas-relief detailing of the inner walls. Built by Persian craftsmen, who were brought to Zanzibar by Sultan Said specifically for the purpose of building Sherehezade’s baths, they were used by the princess to refresh herself after a journey in the country or after hunting. Sherehezade was apparently something of an avid hunter, a very unusual pastime for a woman in a Muslim community. There’s a nice young guide for the baths who is almost always present. He’ll want to see your pink receipt to sign it so be sure you have it ready for him. He’ll also sell you one if it’s your first stop. He’ll give you some history and information about the baths and may tell you that these baths are the strongest evidence of Persian influence in all of East Africa.
Kizimbani Baths are found on the road along Spice Tour, past the Kidichi baths. They are similar to the Kidichi Baths except that they are much plainer, with no Persian inscriptions, animals or flowers depicted on the inner walls. The Kizimbani baths were built for Sultan Said at about the same time as the Kidichi baths. Guide is unlikely.
Mangapwani Coral Cave
Oral tradition says that this underground cavern was discovered by a goat that fell in and then cried until his shepherd came, following his cry, found him meters below the Earth. The shepherd found a natural fresh water spring in the cave. Other stories say that they were also used for slaves to be held here in secrecy after the trade had been abolished. People still believe that the cavern contains an outlet onto the beach (when the tide is right).
The government has placed a stairway allowing for easy descent into the cave where visitors can look at strange insects, listen to water drip, stare at the coral rock ceiling and feel the clammy, stale air of a closed room. Dare each other to see who is brave enough to go looking for the fresh spring. Bring a flashlight. Without a guide it is difficult to find the location – ask local villagers and keep your eyes open for the SMZ sign if you’re not being driven by a guide. The drive will take you now to a new built road past the local village villages.
Mangapwani Slave Chambers
If you made it far enough to see the Coral Cave you should continue on the few kilometers in order to see the Slave Chambers. After the trade was banned in 1872, Arab dealers still continued to transport slaves to the island before finding buyers and for this they needed secrecy and so built the Slave Chambers. They’re cut from coral rock and were allegedly used to conceal slaves at night. The slaves were chained and yoked while transferred from dhow to the chambers. There are few holes in the chambers and therefore little ventilation. This combined with malnutrition, thirst, disease, and overcrowding caused the death of many slaves before they reached the market or were sold to another trader.
Bi Khole Ruins
“Bi” (Swahili for ‘Lady’) Khole was one of Sultan Said’s daughters and with her wealth had an estate built as an out of town getaway. Built on the western side of the island at the sea, the driveway is visible from the road that goes to the southeast coast. The sign to the ruins is small but an indication that you are nearing it is the rows of old mango trees on each side of the road. Local rumor has it that Khole planted one tree for each of her lovers. Although this is a romantic thought, it is unlikely that it is true because the trees may predate her estate. The ruins are an interesting stop because of the beautiful setting. The Palace overlooked the ocean and is surrounded by fields Mango trees. Visitors can see the old courtyard and remains of the Persian baths and fountains. Be careful wandering around the ruins; they’re still crumbling.
Mbweni ruins was once St. Mary’s School for Freed Slave Girls and was built between 1871 and 1874 by the UMCA. As slaves were freed by the British from illegal dhow traders, a village of freed slaves developed around the mission. At one point there were at least 250 freed slaves living there. Orphan girls and daughters of the freed slaves attended the school that trained them to become teachers for other missions on the mainland. Training included basic studies such as math, English and geography and went on to include the religion. The school had 60 to 85 students at any given time that it was open.
The grounds contained dormitory living quarters, schoolrooms, a chapel and, later, an industrial area. The Chapel had a marble altar with mother of pearl inlay that is now the altar of St. John’s church down the road (also built by UMCA). The construction of the school was overseen by Edward Steere, the same man who designed the Anglican Church in Stone Town and wrote the first Swahili-English dictionary. The second headmistress was a woman by the name of Caroline Thackery who was the cousin of English novelist William Thackery. She remained headmistress for 25 years and after retiring, died at the age of 83 in 1926. She is buried near St. John’s Cathedral just near the ruins. By 1917 the school had closed and was abandoned even though a part of it had been sold to the Bank of India when the UMCA ran into fiscal trouble. The ruins remained abandoned except for locals who came to collect water from the cisterns until the current owners of the hotel began renovation.
St. John’s Church
In Mazizini between Stone Town and the airport and viewable on the right on the way to Mbweni Ruins, this church was built in the 1800’s by the UMCA and although it is in a remote location, it is still used for services from time to time.
Beit-el-Ras was intended to be a palace to house the growing family of Sultan Said, and although it was begun in 1847, it had not been completed by the time of his death in 1856. It was a short way up the coast to the north of the Mtoni Palace that served as his main home. Sultan Said’s successor Sultan Majid did not finish the house and some of its stones were later used to complete the Bububu Railroad. The remaining ruins were cleared away in 1947 to make room for the Teacher’s College that was built on the site . If you’re traveling north on the Bububu Road, keep your eyes on the left and when you pass the small Beit-el-Ras Police Station, you’ll be able to see the college up the road a little further north.
Bububu is a village just outside of Stone Town to the north and it is also the gateway to the Spice Tours. Bububu reportedly got its name from a spring in the area that made a sound something like ‘bububu’ as the water came up out of the ground. There are other rumors about the name of the town but no one is quite sure what the origin is. The first train in East Africa ran from Bububu to Stone Town and the main water source for Stone Town is located in Bububu. As far as tourists are concerned, there’s not much to see in Bububu but it is a good place to stop for fresh fruit if you’re on your way to the north coast. Another claim to fame for Bububu is that it was home to Princess Salme before she moved back to town and met her husband.
Fuji Beach is near Bububu village center, a short walk down a dirt road if you’ve been dropped in Bububu by dala-dala. A taxi from town should take you there for no more than TSh 2,500. There’s a bar and restaurant and a nice beach for sunbathing and swimming. At night the bar gets hopping and turns disco – especially hot on Sunday nights.