Zanzibar - Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme
Aga Khan Development Network

Zanzibar Stone Town Projects

Azhar Park ProjectForodhani Park, the main public space in Stone Town, after restoration by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

The Trust has been active in Zanzibar since 1989, successfully completing the restoration of the Old Dispensary and the old Customs House, as well as the rehabilitation of Kelele Square. In all, eleven buildings in Stone Town – many of them on the point of collapse – were restored as part of a programme to demonstrate the building and restoration techniques needed to preserve this World Heritage Site. The Trust has also worked with the Government and international partners – such as the Government of Sweden and the Ford Foundation – to provide training workshops on conservation practice and traditional construction methods for craftsmen, building professionals and Government officers.

Following the restoration of Baltit Fort in Northern Pakistan, the Old Dispensary in Zanzibar was the second major historic building restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture since the establishment of the Historic Cities Programme in 1992. The Zanzibar restoration project was complemented by a wider urban planning and conservation effort, with a view to guiding and controlling future development in the sensitive area of the Stone Town. A cosmopolitan city which developed and flourished in the context of Arab and European marine trade, Zanzibar has now become an attractive tourist destination, and the Stone Town is subject to increasing pressure as a result of modern development. The planning surveys and proposals were carried out in close co-operation with the Zanzibar Stone Town Conservation and Development Authority on the basis of earlier efforts sponsored by UNCHS Habitat.

Of the four “action areas” presented in the Stone Town Conservation Plan, the sea front was perhaps the most representative quarter. It is here that boats from Portugal, from the Arabian peninsula, from India, from England, and even from the Americas crossed each other, exchanging merchandise and contributing to the cosmopolitan character of Zanzibar. It is here that the Omani Sultans, their dignitaries, and rich Indian merchants built their palaces, government buildings, and public facilities. It is here that a sequence of formal and informal open spaces emerged and still constitutes, today, the open-air “living room” and the most prominent focus of the growing city.

The sea front thus became the focus of the Trust’s endeavours, which include not only the restoration of the Old Dispensary at the north-eastern end of the contemporary pier, but also assistance to convert an important but abandoned structure located at the south-eastern edge of the Stone Town, the former telecommunications building erected on a highly visible and strategic site on the sea front in the 1930’s. A corresponding grant was provided to Tourism Promotion Services, another institution of the Aga Khan Development Network, thus enabling the transformation of the building into a viable hotel facility, sensitive to its urban and cultural context.

The new hotel - the Zanzibar Serena Inn - was inaugurated at the same time as the restored Stone Town Cultural Centre, in early March 1997. Both projects constitute models for the wide range of interventions needed in the on-going conservation and revitalisation process of the Stone Town. The state-of-the-art restoration of the Old Dispensary, a key historic building, includes research into and adaptation of the original building technologies. The conversion and adaptation of the telecommunications building ensured the survival of this abandoned structure which, if permitted to further fall into disrepair or if replaced by a less appropriate new building, would have threatened to become an eyesore in the old city.

Stone Town's sea wall undergoing restoration by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.Stone Town's sea wall undergoing restoration by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.The US$ 2.4 million restoration of Forodhani Park in Zanzibar’s Historic Stone Town was completed by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in July 2009. The revitalisation project has transformed the heavily used park – one of the last open spaces in this densely populated World Heritage Site – and upgraded social and recreational amenities in the historic Park. Works included the restoration of the walkways, landscape improvements, infrastructure upgrading including lighting, sewage, drainage and civic amenities and the rehabilitation of the seawall fronting the Park.

The Park, once the location of the main port and a landing point for the former Sultans of Zanzibar has remained a central meeting place for civic discourse, leisure and entertainment. In the last decade, stresses caused by the popularity of the Park took a toll. It was clear that an important part of the patrimony of Stone Town was in need of revitalisation. The rehabilitation project was first proposed by the Trust in 2001 as part of a programme for comprehensive seafront rehabilitation in Stone Town. It was intended to be a logical extension of the work already completed by AKTC in Kelele Square. More.