Zanzibar historical ruins tour

Mangapwani Slave Chamber

The Mangapwani Slave Chamber is a few kilometres further up the coast from the Coral Cave. Although sometimes called the Slave Cave, it is a square-shaped cell that has been cut out of the coralline rock, with a roof on top. It was originally built for storing slaves, and its construction is attributed to one Mohammed bin Nassor Al-Alwi, an important slave trader. Boats from the mainland would unload their human cargo on the nearby beach, and the slaves would be kept there before being taken to Zanzibar Town for resale, or to plantations on the island. It is thought that some time after 1873, when Sultan Barghash signed the Anglo–Zanzibari treaty which officially abolished the slave trade, the cave was used as a place to hide slaves, as an illicit trade continued for many years.

Mangapwani Coral Cave
Mangapwani (meaning ‘Arab shore’) lies on the coast, about 20km north of Zanzibar Town. The Coral Cave is a deep natural cavern in the coralline rock with a narrow entrance and a pool of fresh water at its lowest point. Water was probably collected from here by early inhabitants of this part of the island but at some time in the past vegetation grew across the entrance and the exact position of the cavern was forgotten. Later, the area became the property of a wealthy Arab landowner called Hamed Salim el Hathy who had many slaves working on his plantations. During this time, the cavern was rediscovered by a young boy searching for a lost goat. Local people were able to use the water again, and Hamed Salim arranged for his slaves to collect the water regularly for his own use. It has been suggested by historians that the cave may have been used as a hiding place for slaves after the trade was officially abolished in 1873. Most people come here on an organised tour, or by privately hired car or bike. Buses on Route 2 link Zanzibar Town and Mangapwani village, but services are not frequent. To reach the cavern from Zanzibar Town.

Maruhubi Ruins

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. There’s a keeper that stays by the driveway selling curios and he’ll write your receipt but he does not give tours or answer questions.

Mtoni Ruins

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.

Kizimbani Baths

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.

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 and 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

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 a ‘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. 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 USD 7. There is a nice bar and restaurant and a beach for sunbathing and swimming, here is where you can see most local Zanzibaris swimming in the evening and some doing jogging . At night there is a local Disco especially hot on Sunday Tuesday and Friday night, where ladies are free.