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Zanzibar > Pictures and travelogues > Stone Town's Old Dispensary

Pictures from the Old Dispensary in Stone Town, Zanzibar Island: facade and interior.

Old Dispensary in Stone Town, Zanzibar
The Old Dispensary in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

Zanzibar City, the capital of Zanzibar, is situated on the west coast of Zanzibar Island (also known as Unguja). It comprises two main parts, Stone Town and Ng'ambo which are separated by the Creek Road, formerly a saltwater creek. The creek that actualywas a stinking swamp at low tidewas covered over by a road in the 1930's. 

Stone town, former capital of the Zanzibar Sultanate, is the old town (locally "Mji Mkongwe" ) of Zanzibar. It is the historical and cultural heart of the city. With its labyrinth of narrow streets, Stone Town looks like medinas of North Africa or Arabia. It has been a major coastal trading town of East Africa for many centuries. It was the main slave market where slaves from East and Central Africa were bought and sold in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The name "Stone Town" comes from the use of coral stone as the main construction material. Stone Town has been listed as World heritage by UNESCO.

Ng'ambo is much larger and more modern than Stone Town. It remains more African in feel.

Facade of the Old Dispensary in Stone Town
Facade of the Old Dispensary in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

The Old Dispensary, known locally as Ithinasheri Dispensary, is located at the waterfront in Stone Town. It was a charity hospital that was commissioned in 1887 by Sir Tharia Topan, an Ismaeli businessman, and completed after his death by the new owner in 1894.

Sir Tharia Topan was one of the wealthiest men in Zanzibar at the end of the 19th century. He was the collector of Custom duties at the ports of Zanzibar and Pemba. He paid the Sultan a large, but fixed, fee at the start of each year for the privilege of being appointed as tax collector and he could keep for himself all proceeds exceeding this amount. He was also financial advisor and banker of the slave trader Tippu Tip.

The medical dispensary occupied the ground floor while the first and second floors housed the doctor's family. It is one of the finest landmarks of Zanzibar and a symbol of the multi-cultural architecture of the city. It was named the Jubilee Hospital to honor Queen Victoria at her golden jubilee.

After the 1964 revolution, the building fell into disuse and decay. In 1990, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture leased it from the government and restored it fully. The Old Dispensary is now a major tourist attraction in Stone Town and houses a few offices. It remains still partly unoccupied. It is still known as the "old dispensary".

Courtyard of the Old Dispensary in Stone Town, Zanzibar
The courtyard of the Old Dispensary in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

The inside of the building is just as sophisticated as the facade, with a covered courtyard and carved bridges connecting the floors.


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Travel guide and travel directory to Zanzibar with many pictures.