Doors of Zanzibar: Carved art of the Swahili Coast

Zanzibar Doors

Getting lost in Stonetown is easy. For the most part narrow streets and alleyways intersect every 50 feet. You quickly realize that angles are anything but perpendicular. Cardinal directions suddenly become irrelevant. Generally speaking, the only consistency is the plethora of beautiful Zanzibar doors.

Zanzibar Island’s Stonetown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It bears witness to centuries of East African trade. For more than a millennium, this small island was a focal point for trading activity. This is where Africa, Asia, Europe and India all met. The convergence of African and Indian cultures, in particular, shaped the culture of Zanzibar more than any other.

African and Indian architectural influences pose side-by-side. Rectangular Arab doors are decorated with intricate carvings of lotus flowers and palm leaves. Arabic inscriptions are ubiquitous. As with doors in the Indian style, rounded top and embedded brass studs distinguish these pieces. The total number of hand-carved, hardwood doors in Stonetown was once over 800. However teak and rosewood masterpieces are hard to ignore. Owing to this many have disappeared into the hands of international collectors.

Those that remain are predominantly from the 18th and 19th centuries. Amongst merchant society, these doors were a strong indication of a household’s wealth and stature. At this point, they are beautiful, functioning pieces of art.

 

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This collection of images is from a series of posts about our trip to Zanzibar. If you’d like to see more, click below!

2 comments
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  • Judy Benjamin

    Doors and windows are my own favorite architectural features — these are stunning and I agree with Ben’s comment.ReplyCancel

  • Ben Werner

    nice study – I enjoy the juxtaposition of whole pieces and detail shots…ReplyCancel

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