Something you’ll notice since your first walk around Stone Town? Solid, carved, typical doors, standing out on houses’ fronts along every road. It’s a traditional art & craft expression that you’ll find in Zanzibar – of course, there’s plenty of history behind it!
Let’s dig the past centuries, when the island was one of the most important commercial crossroads of the Indian Ocean. Stone Town was divided into ethnic and economic districts, often specialised in a certain trade.
And, when building a new house, the first part was the door. Not just a safety tool, but also a kind of “business card” of the owner: elaborate decorations and carving were, in fact, a signal of wealth and position of the family living inside.
At a good observer’s sight, it will be clear: not all doors look the same. Styles and symbols change depending on different cultural roots.
Along bazaar streets, you’ll see probably the Indian type: built for security purpose as first, these doors are less decorated, reinforced and studded with dhow nails. Arabic doors are instead richer in carving, with visible symbols and Koranic scripts.
How to “read” Zanzibar doors? Just have a look at the most common figures. Flowers indicate that a high class family was living in that house. Chains are the symbol of people involved in the slavery trade. Fishes and ropes represent a businessman dealing with fishing and vessels. Geometric shapes were for mathematicians and accountants. Beads for jewellers. And so on…
And now, are you ready for a doors hunting trip in Zanzibar’s Stone Town?