Zanzibar doors – discovering the incredible artwork on the streets of Stone Town

The city streets of Stone Town were calling. Zanzibar’s beautiful port city looked like a place frozen in time – many streets were so narrow that cars could not squeeze through, and they were rarely built in straight lines, making this city a veritable labyrinth. But something in particular was catching our eye. The incredible Zanzibar doors.

With a breakfast of bread and a fruit paste dip, we headed out to explore the backstreets of this historic place. The buildings themselves were squat, square and ugly, sandy-coloured concrete blocks with stone lattice balconies, stained with black runoff, bundles of heavy rubber power cables slouching between neighbours.

The front doors, by contrast, were much more beautiful. Each one was unique, old, heavy and wooden, decorated with detailed abstract carvings, defended by metal studs and religious symbols and inscriptions. Some were warped and leaning from centuries of load bearing, others splintered and cracked and graffitied. Doors of rich families or hotels were gleaming with polish, and one even had a cage full of heavy rocks suspended in a cage over the doorframe.

Stopping to consider each door began to reveal clues about the world that lay beyond, and suddenly those ugly discoloured building facades began to form beautiful, watercolour backdrops these unique Zanzibari gems. The doors are usually built of heavy teak or mahogany, giving them rich warm colours and a sense of strength and pride.

Small hatches were present in some doors, allowing for quick access. Great brass studs are an Indian-influenced feature, a throwback design once used to stop war elephants from battering down Indian palace doors. Vines, flowers and fish scales were common motifs crawling up the door frames and across the lintels, which indicated the professions of the originals owners, and flowers showed how many families once lived inside the building.

The doors of Zanzibar are a hidden gamin an already enchanting city, and absolutely worth the time to discover!

Have you been to Zanzibar? What was the most impressive door you came across?

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