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Zanzibar > Pictures and travelogues > House of Wonders, Stone Town

Pictures from the House of Wonders (Zanzibar National Museum) in Stone Town, Zanzibar Island.

House of Wonders (Zanzibar National Museum) in Stone Town
The House of Wonders (Beit al-Ajaib) in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

The House of Wonders was built in 1883 by Sultan Sayyid Barghash, second Sultan of Zanzibar, for ceremonial purposes. It is located in a prominent place facing the sea on the site of the 17th century palace of Zanzibari Queen Fatuma. The latter had remained loyal to the Portuguese and was sent into exile after the conquest of the island by Oman.

The House of Wonders was the tallest building in East Africa at the time and remains the tallest building of Stone Town. It was the first building in Zanzibar to have electric lighting and running water, and also the first building in East Africa to have an elevator. It is probably the most prominent landmark of Stone Town.

Door of the House of Wonders in Stone Town, Zanzibar
Circular pediment of the main door of the House of Wonders (Beit al-Ajaib) in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

The sultan had the main door made wide enough so that he could ride an elephant through. The entrance is guarded by two bronze cannons captured from the Portuguese at the siege d'Hormuz in 1622.

Covered passages above street level connected this 4-story building to the two adjacent palaces Beit al-Hukum and Beit al-Sahel (now Palace Museum), allowing the royal family to move without mingling with people down below.

During the British bombardment of Stone Town's waterfront on August 27, 1896, the House of Wonders suffered only minor damages while the Beit al-Hukum Palace was destroyed and the Beit al-Sahel Palace severely damaged. The following year, the facade of the House of Wonders was renovated and completed with a new tower containing the old lighthouse clock that formerly stood in front of the building.

Sultan Hamoud used the upper floor as a residence during his reign from 1902 to 1911.

In 1911, the House was transformed into government offices and as the main secretariat for the British authorities.

After the 1964 revolution, the House of Wonders was used by the ruling party and in 2001 it became the National Museum of Zanzibar. The latter was closed for restoration at the time of writing (early January 2013).

The clock tower of the House of Wonders in Stone Town
The clock tower of the House of Wonders (Beit al-Ajaib) in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

The clock tells the time according to the Swahili time system. The latter starts counting time with the sunrise which occurs at 6.00 a.m. on the equator. So, Western time = Swahili time + 6 hours.


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Travel guide and travel directory to Zanzibar with many pictures.